On Giants' Shoulders

Friday, June 27, 2008

WOW! It worked!

Of course the link spread way too far across the page. So now I have to do a bunch of mindless blathering in order to move it down to where it isn't running into other text, right???

Well maybe instead of mindless blathering I'll try for something a bit more intelligent. We spent a lot of time this past week riding the rails. We took Amtrak trains to and from St. Louis where we attended my niece Laura's wedding. The employees on the train for the most part were helpful, courteous, friendly, everything you'd want. The only thing we got somewhat frustrated with was the crew from Chicago to St. Louis not keeping us updated about the delays. Other than that the crews were great.

The sleeper cars were among the best parts of the whole trip, but riding coach on The Texas Eagle wasn't bad either. The food was actually better than I expected until the very last meal (a rather forgettable hamburg and something that passed for key lime pie, but really didn't make the grade). The breakfasts were really good as was the one dinner we ate on board.

Where Amtrak falls down, still, is in its schedule. We ended up staying overnight in Chicago (at Amtrak's expense) because we missed our connection on the way back. This was totally due to the dispatcher's decisions, not the fault of the train crew. If the dispatcher had held the same southbound train that he held when we were on it a couple of nights earlier, we would have made our connection. Ironically, it worked out well for us. We got to spend a night in a fairly posh hotel, spent a day in Chicago, and got an on board upgrade to a sleeper car (after being told they were all sold out all day) which cost us $500 less than our original sleeper. If you aren't in a hurry even their quirky schedules don't have to be more than a minor inconvenience.

Apparently, a lot more people are riding the rails these days with the increase in gas prices. Coach seats, in particular, are really affordable, but a bedroom is not a bad way to go for up to 3 people. They say in their literature that 3 is a squeeze, but my son and husband are both fairly big guys, and we didn't find it a squeeze at all. With a sleeper your meals are included, you board the train first, get a newspaper in the morning, and get first dibs on the dining car. With the standard bedroom there is a small bathroom attached to the bedroom with a toilet and shower and there's a sink in the bedroom itself. It's not a luxury hotel, but it's a whole lot nicer than anything an airline will provide. Even the coach seats in the worst of the trains we were on gave more leg room and seat room than an airline coach seat (I've never tried an airplane's first class section).

I honestly believe that upgrading our rail system and putting more money into that instead of into highways would actually improve the energy efficiency of the country while still allowing people to get where they need to go in an economical fashion. Apparently, other people are starting to agree. The trains were all nearly totally full in both the coach and sleeper cars. The rest of the world uses trains more than cars. I think it's time the U.S. did so as well. Now if Amtrak can just fix their schedules....

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