Monday, February 21, 2011

What a way to run a railroad!!

Given my reluctance to fly and my growing reluctance to drive long distances, my sister-in-law suggested that we take Amtrak to visit them in Colorado in May.

I checked Amtrak for schedules.  The cost for two of us from Minneapolis-St. Paul would be $694, not too bad for two coach seats.  But the trip leaves Minneapolis-St. Paul on May 15 at 11:15 p.m., arrives in Portland OR on May 17 at 10:10 a.m., leaves Portland on May 17 at 2:25 p.m, arrives in Sacramento CA on May 18 at 6:15 a.m, leaves Sacramento on May 18 at 11:09 a.m., and arrives in Denver CO on May 19 at 6:38 p.m.  That is labeled as the "Shortest Trip".

That would be four days of sitting up day and night.  A roomette from the Twin Cities to Portland would be $268 extra, rooms from Portland to Sacramento are already sold out for May 17, and a roomette from Sacramento to Denver would be $436.

I can drive from the Twin Cities to Denver in two days and sleep in a solid bed overnight for less than half the cost of a roomette on the cheapest leg.

Also, the $694 is for one-way.  Even though I clicked Round-Trip, the web site only gives me one-way.

Looking at a route map, the alternative is to go to Chicago and then to Denver.  So I gave that a go with scheduling, giving a round trip itinerary.  The time would be much better with an eight hour and an eighteen hour leg.  Unfortunately, there would be a 22 hour layover in Chicago on the way to Denver and a 23 hour layover on the way back.  Plus, the web site wouldn't process this any further – "Problem with your itinerary".  I gave up.  I don't know the cost of this trip.

It seems that Amtrak has almost been designed to discourage train travel.  I think that only two groups of people would be interested.  First would be those who have time and are traveling between two cities on the same train.  The sold out rooms on a May train between Portland and Sacramento may be an indicator that this group will support the current schedule.  Second would be those who take trains just to take trains.

It doesn't have to be this way.  I took trains as a kid out of Cleveland's Terminal and it was a busy place.  Now the Cleveland stop isn't much more than a siding for a one train a day each way.  I've taken trains all over Europe, both day trips and overnight, and I have ridden the bullet and regular trains in Japan.

Maybe Steve Jobs will start the train "for the rest of us"?