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Making the Connection

Subject: Re: Making the Connection
Date: Sat, 4 Oct 1997 05:12:02 -0500

ListServer: amtrak (Discussion of Amtrak travel)
Type: Not Moderated
Distributed on: 04-OCT-97, 05:11:48
Original Written by:

Date: Sat, 4 Oct 1997 07:55:09 -0400 (EDT)

Message-ID: <>
Subject: Re: Making the Connection

In a message dated 97-10-01 21:37:42 EDT, you write:

<< What has been the on-time arrival of the Sunset Ltd into LA? I am never comfortable with making a short connection. I took Amtrak from Minneapolis - Chicago - LA -Seattle -Minn. The Sunset passengers caught up to the Starlight at San Lluis Obispo by bus and the Starlight was 3 hours late into Seattle. Those catching the Portland leg of the Empire Builder were bused from sourthern Oregon to make sure they caught that train. The Empire Builder was on time when we caught it to leave on our trip and on the way back from Seattle. Is there any way for a person to check on time arrival records. Gil, I would hate for you to end up spending time on the bus considering the Starlight is a great ride. Any other comments from the audience on making connections?

Howard Cameron Hudson WI >>


Good Evening, Howard, Gil and fellow compatriates of the Amtrak List...

Last Thanksgiving (the tale begins Saturday, November 23), a brother was getting married in San Jose. Originally, my wife and I were taking the train (of course) while everyone else was flying. We are spread out all over the country, so in March (Are you listening, Congress? We had to begin planning and reserving our sleeping accomodations in March for the Thanksgiving trip! Not bad, considering it is thought no one is using Amtrak!), we made our reservations.

Having heard and read so much about the Coast Starlight, we took the somewhat indirect route -- Empire Builder (Chicago to Portland), then Coast Starlight (Portland to San Jose).

Over time, our Amtrak family party grew to 23 people! We had virtually every deluxe bedroom, a lot of the economy rooms and even the family and handicap room in the same car. What a "reunion" it would be.

Some members from out east came in via the Capitol Limited; most of us met them in Chicago, with the final group boarding in Milwaukee. We lost count of how much cheese, crackers and wine was consumed. More than a few of us remember dinner, but not the trip up the Mississippi towards Minneapolis. Everyone knew ahead of our journey; my travel agent worked with Amtrak as intimately as she could to ensure Chicago and on-board staff knew of our sojourn. We weren't disappointed.

Yes, the trip started so well.

Then Mother Nature took over...

We began to experience a few delays through North Dakota and Montana. If I recall, it was very cold (near-zero degree temperatures), and once BNSF took over an hour adding a lead engine. Throughout Montana, we found ourselves a few hours down, but we weren't worried; we had almost five hours lag time in Portland. As we climbed the Rockies at midnight, it was respendent in snow and beauty.

At daybreak of day three, I didn't like what I didn't hear. We weren't moving. When we looked outside, it was awesome and again beautiful -- our train was stopped in the middle of the mountains, at least two to three FEET of freshly fallen snow! Our New Zealand family couldn't believe it. Since this a positive diatribe, I won't go into details of the delay, except the reason we were stalled was to replace the 12-hour dead crew (I'll never know why our delay wasn't anticipated and another crew ready).

Which now leads to the reason for this response to Howard's question.

The whole point of the trip was the Starlight. Since we hadn't even hit Idaho yet, the Portland connection was beginning to look pretty grim. At this time, I took the On-Board Chief aside. Given the fact Amtrak "guarantees" the Portland Coast Starlight connection, I suggested that they fly our party (of 23! But a guarantee is a guarantee) from Spokane to Portland. Being a management type with some negotiation skills (never burn that bridge ahead of time!), we worked together. He radioed to whomever, and it was agreed. To Amtrak's credit, everything was handled very professionally. They arranged a second bus for us to the airport, cut our airline tickets for Spokane- Portland and we got to the airport with time to spare.

Of course, Mr. Murphy must have been a silent member of our group. As we climbed toward the airport, it became increasingly foggy and dense. The devastation from the recent round of ice storms was still evident. Well, departure time came and went. It was too foggy for the plane from Portland to land. An hour later, he tried a second time; no luck. After all of the hard work performed by our On-Board Chief and the Spokane agent, we lost our battle.

By the time we got into the air and landed in Portland, the Starlight had departed. Amtrak could not justify holding the train for about two hours just for our group. We were devastated.

The Portland Amtrak agent met us at the airport. Now what to do. A few of us railfans (who wanted to still take the Starlight), tried to get them to fly us in a puddle-jumper to Eugene or Salem to pick the Starlight in transit. For various reasons (small airports, etc), it didn't work. So there was only one more decision to be made -- fly tonight or the next morning to San Francisco/Oakland. A few patrons, not from our group, opted for the next morning. We thought that if the weather continued to deteriorate, the next morning may be a bust. We flew out that night, Portland to Oakland, on Alaska Airline, again at Amtrak's expense. And the final positive, because we would have been on the train overnight and no one was available to pick us up at midnight in Oakland, they also provided lodging in Oakland. It was a Day's Inn, but it was OK.

So, gang, Amtrak busted their tails for us on this one. I know I'm not providing any pertinent statistics of the type Howard requested, but I thought you might like to hear our tale. They did honor their guarantee (with a bit of suggestive ideas placed by yours truly with the right people); two flights and one hotel later, we arrived. It wasn't the trip we envisioned, but at least the first two days were a blast. (P.S. Lest you think Amtrak really took a financial bath flying 23 people twice and lodging, they did sell our rooms on the Starlight. They did recoup some of their expense. Gee, this probably explains their reluctance in flying us to Salem or Eugene; the rooms were probably gone five miles south of Portland!).

Your humble Amtrak partisan (over 400,000 miles on Amtrak and VIA),

Ron (Naperville, Illinois) c/o

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