Oct 6, 2008

Amtrak II

Image source: www.capemay.com/

People complain about Amtrak. The two biggest complaints I hear are that, one, the trains are often extremely late, and, two, it costs a lot.

Maybe it's because it wasn't so long ago that I was sitting the back seat of a car, but I say it's a lot nicer to sit in the back seat and look out the window than worry about directions, gas stops, bathroom breaks, traffic, and all the other things that can possibly go wrong when you're behind the wheel (a LOT).

So a train ride with music in my ears and a book in my lap (or laptop or newspaper or magazine or homework) with all the greenery passing by is preferable to sitting shotgun for four hours.* So let's see what people do wrong when they use Amtrak...

*sitting shotgun after spending months as a pedestrian is a MOST HARROWING EXPERIENCE. My rule while walking around the city is stay far, far away from those crazy cars, so being in a car is nerve-wracking at best.

1. The trains are late, late, late and more late.

I have been there, sitting in Union Station or 30th Street Station for three hours, watching all the little numbers flicker to reveal that my train is ... another half hour late, at least. Amtrak is different from a plane in that it's a much more integrated system than a plane jumping off the ground in one place and landing on it the next, trains work more like traffic: if there's a jam ten miles down the road, you're going to feel it right where you are.*

So what can you do? Call ahead. It seems like a "Well, DUH." move but it's the best way to save you 30 minutes to 5 hours. The Amtrak machine lady's name is Julie and she's super nice and ... easy? Can I say that about a robot woman? It's all voice command so you don't have to punch numbers in, which is great in case you're driving to the station in I-78 style traffic. The attendants are also nice and super-efficient. And, to be fair, it's only a couple times I've been sitting in a train station for more than 15 minutes more than I expected. But, ya know, it's those few times that really, REALLY get you.

*Hello, I-78, how are you? OH, backed up. Well that's good. I guess. I mean, I didn't REALLY want to do anything with my afternoon, anyway.

2. Expensive!

Of course, if you're considering taking the train instead of driving a deciding factor is going to be gas prices. So the price of a ticket is really relative to how big your gas tank is, how many cylinders you've got going on, your tire pressure, your oil levels, and your MPG. So it's probably going to be better if you've got one of those Lincoln Navigators. Then again, if you have a Lincoln Navigator, you probably don't care about gas prices ...

But! If a ticket is going to cost you 90 dollars just to get to DC and you have to drive to the station, anyway,* why bother?

But I can get a one way ticket from DC to Philly for 30 bucks. Like planes and whatnot, prices are significantly cheaper if you buy ahead and ridiculously expensive if you buy then-and-there. Plus they offer lots of different kinds of discounts. Student Advantage and AAA are ten percent discount if you've got them, there's NARP, ISIC, military and veterans advantage, too.

It's worth a try, at least once. Don't you want to go someplace and not worry about parking the car? Looking at the scenery for once instead of an ocean of license plates sounds nice, doesn't it? I think it does.

*or take the Beiber bus. But their to and from Philly schedule SUCKS, to be frank.

EDIT: Hooray! Amtrak MIGHT get new funding to start fixing these problems! (link to treehugger.com)


Anonymous said...

Ahh, Amtrak. My hubby and I attempted to take a train from Philly to Tampa one Easter to see my brother. It cost about $125 a piece to ride coach. The ride was off to a nice start, after leaving late, of course! We rode behind a family of four headed for Disney. They were exactly like the Griswolds from the National Lampoon flicks. EXactly! Silly Mickey Mouse hats, Angry Dad, passive-aggressive mom...
So...we got all the way down to Richmond, Virginia when we stopped. I asked one of the porters what was up and he said a freight train (what else?) up ahead knocked into a bridge and engineers had to come out to assess the damage before allowing us to pass. There was NO other way around this bridge. Since this review would take hours they turned us around and sent us home. It was an 18 hour ride to nowhere! Easter cancelled. Dad Griswold was flipping out. (I thought we were going to have to tranquilize him.) We got back to 30th St at 4 in the a.m. and Amtrak gave us a refund and put us up in a hotel. So much for our big journey. It certainly was a learning experience. Oddly enough, I would probably try it again.

Katie Bee said...

I feel that any relationship with Amtrak is a little bit masochistic. Perhaps it will all pay off in the not-so-distant future? I hope you at least got a few laughs out of the family! Sometimes it's just plain embarrassing to sit near people like that because you WANT SO BADLY to stare at them and watch them like a television show but then you remember that they stare back and are embarrassed! I have done it a few times on the train.