Flutterby™! : Amtrak

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2002-04-09 16:25:03+00 by Dan Lyke 8 comments

Had my first Amtrak experience on Friday, took the train down to Fresno. Left Oakland on-time, got into Fresno on-time, for about what gas costs, less time than it takes to drive it, and probably less than it would've taken to fly given airport security today. Passengers were an interesting mix, it's a cut above Greyhound, but the guy the conductor cut off from the alcohol was kinda unsettling. I'll be trying rail travel again, since they use equipment suited to each line I'd guess the Coast Starlight has a different feel from the San Joaquin, but this particular run was cheap transportation, not about the romance and allure of rail travel.

And the Amtrak[Wiki] website sucks! Trying to check on the status of a train means a set of pull-down forms to select a date and time, which then returns an "Invalid Date Format" error message. And navigation is not tuned to the casual browser.

[ related topics: Bay Area Travel Trains ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-04-09 18:59:13+00 by: Dan S.

Maybe I'm naive, but Amtrak's website sold me expensive tickets and only obscurely mentioned they were "motor coach" tickets. It wasn't until my father told me my home town didn't have a train station in operation that we did some investigation and discovered the station mentioned on Amtrak's web site was a *bus* station. Thankfully, Amtrak let me cancel for a full refund, no questions asked. I don't blame Amtrak necessarily, but I do blame their crappy web site for not making some of these things clearer for less-train-saavy folks like me.

-- DS

#Comment made: 2002-04-09 19:23:14+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, their being extremely unclear on the bus versus train thing is annoying, even in station announcements they're as evasive as they can be without actively lying, lots of "passengers going on to San Francisco will need to transfer..." without saying "... to the bus you see to your left". They're trying too hard to build a brand separate from the mode of transport.

And yet, with all of the differentiation they claim to have for different routes (specialized cars for given terrain), and all of the "taking the train is its own reward" advertising on their premium routes, I had to jump through hoops to find those line links above.

As I think about this more, more of the little things tick me off. I don't expect more for $30, but in all of their advertising there's a lot of expectation management that could be done better. Oh well, perhaps with the current troubles they're having we'll get some major management change. Now if we can just put the true costs of automobile and airline travel in fuel and ticket costs so that the train has a chance at being competitive.

#Comment made: 2002-04-09 20:33:57+00 by: babar

I had similar problems with their website when I was planning a trip from San Jose to Portland on the Coast Starlight. I wound up just calling the 800 number, and got all the answers I wanted.

I wound up getting a sleeper car room, which gets you access to a lounge car that was reasonably entertaining people watching and gives you room to stretch out. Most of the other sleeper car passengers were families with kids or retired couples going to visit family. You also got free meals, where they seat different groups together to fill up the tables, so I got to hear lots of interesting stories. There was also some really beautiful scenery along the way through Oregon. Overall, it was a fun trip, but too expensive if you didn't want to try enjoying the train part just for its own merits.

#Comment made: 2002-04-09 22:05:26+00 by: Shawn

I find the mention of busses disheartening. Katrina and I have talked off and on about trying the train (we always fly if it's too far to drive - Katrina used to work for Alaska Airlines) for some trips. But we will never do the bus thing. I myself have never ridden a "motor coach" [that wasn't privately hired], but she has - as have both her parents and mine. Every one of them said the same words on returning: "Never again!"

#Comment made: 2002-04-09 22:10:09+00 by: Scho

Having used Amtrak to commute daily from Sacramento to San Francisco for a year (2001), I'd caution against relying on the service. When the Rail Gods are smiling it can't be faulted: cheap (roundtrip Sac - SF foo $14), comfortable, even relaxing. When the God's frown, it's a nightmare, and sadly the God's frowned all too often in my experience. More than 50% of the trains were delayed or inexplicably cancelled; I frequently found myself an hour or more late for work and 2 hours late getting home, staff were rude, unresponsive and ill-informed.

#Comment made: 2002-04-10 13:12:19+00 by: meuon

I used to love Amtrack from Chicago to St Louis. $45 round trip. Here I am an Chattanooga, home of the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and I can't get on a passenger train. Sounds Like I don't want to any more.

#Comment made: 2002-04-10 13:25:16+00 by: ziffle

Apart from being a dirty, and sometimes smelly ride, the bus companies around here have taken to painting advertisements over the windows! Now you get to ride in darkness -- aweful, I am told.

#Comment made: 2002-04-10 17:05:13+00 by: TC

Hmmm the Coast Starlight is the only route I have taken with Amtrak and it's a lot of fun. Trains are especially relaxing for me since I am almost always the driver with auto travel and I find them somewhat romantic/nostalgic of another era.