Oh God, no! He’s not going to talk about Amtrak again!

Yes, I am, but it’s good. Trust me, it’s good.

Back from three weeks in Chicago visiting family. I had hoped to visit with a couple friends, too – ran out of time.

Overall the trip was wonderful. Tomorrow I’ll write about some of the things I saw and did.

Two of my last three posts were about the rigors of the Amtrak train trip out there. The trip back was much more pleasant though, mostly because the train was never terribly late and arrived on time.

After stepping off the train in Chicago more than six hours late I sent an email to Amtrak’s CEO, Charles Wickliffe “Wick” Moorman IV, suggesting Amtrak do a better job communicating the timeliness of its trains, especially when it was common knowledge to Amtrak that a train would likely be late (on the trip to Chicago I overheard one of the conductor’s mention talk about a 13 mile stretch coming up where the train was going to lose an hour).

In the days just before my return train was to leave I got a couple emails from Amtrak telling me about an area that could cause the train to lose 1 – 2 hours because of track repaired. There was also a notice on the website about the possible loss of time. I thought that was a good effort. Also, while on the train there were a few times the conductor announced a likely delay and why it would occur.

For the most part, the train stayed close to schedule until Albuquerque where we sat for almost an hour. As the train made its way across New Mexico and into Arizona it fell further and further behind schedule so that by the time we reached Needles California we were 90 minutes late. From there on the engineer did a nice job picking up time, but we were still an hour late when we reached San Bernardino.

I had a connecting train to take me from L.A. to Ventura, that I was hoping to catch, but at the current pace I figured we roll into L.A. at 9:13 a.m. and my train to Ventura would leave at 9:14. You can see my dilemma. The next train for me would be at 12:30 p.m. To my delight the engineer managed to cut large chunks off that 60-minute deficit at the next three stops so that we rolled into LA’s Union Station just 20 minutes late and I had more than enough time to catch my connecting train.

All-in-all, the trip restored my faith in Amtrak. However, I will never sit on a train for two days again. Being confined that long in a limited space with a train-full of strangers became painful. It’s also too hard to sleep comfortably in a chair, even if the chair is relatively comfortable. There are only two ways I will ever make such a trip again. I might do it if I could afford a sleeping car (right now $150 or so for the coach, about $700 for the sleeper with a senior discount). Or I might plan a trip three or four stop train trip, go 1/4 – 1/3 of the way each day and spend some time being a tourist at each stop. Otherwise, I’ll fly.

A few things I learned:

  • Always bring an extra layer of clothing (sweatshirt or jacket and sweatpants) and maybe a blanket. Also, bring a pillow or at least a towel to roll and use as a pillow. Sometimes the air conditioning is left on and it can get colder than a you-know-what.Amtrak Southwest Chief Lounge Car
  • Bring a couple books and/or a Kindle, Nook, or Tablet and headphones or earphones (to while away the time you can read, listen to music, or watch videos, but you’ll need to listen privately.
  • You might find a set of earplugs useful, especially if someone nearby is having a conversation you don’t want to overhear or if the person in the aisle seat next to you snores.
  • If you can’t sleep in your seat or you become uncomfortable sitting you can walk the train, which I did often, and sit in the lounge car which has a sunny and pleasant view of the passing scenery. At night you might be able to find a place to stretch out a bit more than you can in your seat. The lounge car was my second home on the train.
  • Pack some food – sandwiches, bagels, muffins, salads, fruit, snacks, etc. Nothing that needs heating, though. Microwaves are not available for passenger use. Meals on the train, while often fairly good, are expensive. Snacks are also expensive. I bought a six-ounce container of donut holes and a small bag of M & M’s for six dollars. I could have gotten both for $4 or less in a grocery store.
  • Take advantage of any opportunity to get off the train. The few minutes of fresh air will do you good and you might see a use for your cell phone camera.

Right now I’m planning one long train trip and a couple shorter ones. First I’ll be spending some time in San Francisco, in January I think I’ll go to Albuquerque. Then in April the long one up to Seattle. Driving up there would take a minimum of 20 hours non-stop, but the train trip is 33 hours. Right now I’m trying to decide the most convenient and interesting place or places somewhere in the middle to stop and spend a day both going up and coming back.

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