Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Train Travel

Subtitle: Why It's Dead in America

I took the train up to Vancouver yesterday to pick Kate up from her Dad's rather than renting a car or burning my Flexcar hours. I haven't actually been to Vancouver proper to pick Kate up in some time and I thought it would be a fun change of pace.


I had to be up at 5:45am to catch the bus to the train station to pick up my tickets prior to travel. I was there quite early and told to check in at the kiosk (after checking in to pick up the tickets) for a seat assignment, and even though there was a person manning the kiosk, she was refusing to check anyone in who wasn't in Business Class. The rest of us had to wait so that we could line up and wait some more once the person assigned to check in the filthy masses arrived. The station had no amenities outside of a soda vending machine and a vending machine for chips and candy bars: no cafes, no espresso stands, no newspaper vendors, nothing.

Once boarded, I found the staff to be beyond pleasant, downright friendly. That was a refreshing change from airline employees who are frequently surly. The scenery along the coastline was gorgeous as the sun came up. Despite the early hour some riders had a very difficult time not annoying other passengers with their increedibly loud headphones (if I can hear the music from your headphones at the other end of the car, they're too loud!), singing along, loudly talking on their cell phones and whatnot.

In the dining car I treated myeslf to a breakfast that was better than what passes for airline food, but that's about all I can say for it. The train was stopped for the entire 45 minutes I spent in the dining car; Amtrak doesn't own the tracks they use and are at the mercy of the freight companies who can (and do) exercize their right of way to the detriment of all passenger schedules. The dining car was fairly empty while I ate, but I was sitting across from a table full of business guys who weredone eating and sitting around loudly talking about the clients who'd taken them out to "four-figure bar tab" meals and the predictably banal "expoits" of their recent business trips. A discussion of barbecue sauce led to acid reflux led to "and if you bent over to tie your shoes the entire contents of your stomach would have spilled out," which led me to sigh audibly and look out the window wishing I were somewhere else. One of the guys was perceptive enough to warnhis friends they were straying into conversational territory that wasn't "breakfast friendly." A different guy piped up, "Well, I guess I'll just go back to Business Class then." Oh yes, you're very important, asshole. GO on back to Business Class and bug them.

The train was something like an hour and a half late pulling into Vancouver. I was told as I exited the train that I should plan to be back by 4:00pm for seat assignments on that night's return. Instead of spending a relaxed afternoon visiting the Vancouver library and visiting my old haunts, I had time to get a cheap lunch (outside of the train station) and visit a book store, but that's about it.

At 4:00 I returned to the Vancouver station and stood in line for 45 minutes to get my seat assignment, and when Kate arrived with her dad, joined the line for our customs screening and baggage/purse/jacket x-raying. We got dinner at the attached McDonalds because I didn't want to pay the minimum $14 per person price for dinner on board the train. The Customs Declaration part of the trip (where we cross the border and agents board the train, collect declarations, bring aboard the drug/money/explosives sniffing dogs) went fast as far as I could tell, but somehow we still lost 45 mintues travel time and were looking at getting into Seattle at nearly 11pm.

On the up side, Kate made friends with another little girl and her mom and they offered us a ride home because they live on our end of town (though not exactly close) and have friends who go to Kate's school. Kate charmed them, as is her way. I wish I had half the extrovert tendencies that she has. I gladly accepted the ride, which allowed me to be home and in bed by midnight.

Total time on train: 10 hours. Total time in standing in lines: 2 hours. Total time enjoying Vancouver:4 hours (if you include riding the sky train and Vancouver city buses as "enjoying").


for this post

Blogger Daniel M. Perez Says:

Good to know bad train service is a national thing, and not just in Miami. After having traveled to Europe and used their amazing train network I yearn for it everyday. Unfortunately this country is in love with its cars, especially the gas-guzzler types, and an efficient national train system is something that is simply not an issue, let alone a priority. Sad.

Anonymous Anonymous Says:

There are a few places in the U.S. where the train system works well, and they are much like the places in Europe where the train system works well--densely populated areas where there is little advantage in driving, especially to the city center.

Train travel could work better for short regional trips (I've seen plans for a Great Lakes regional network centered on Chicago), but given the sprawled nature of most American urban areas, it is not flexible enough for most travelers.

Dr. John


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