• 3/12-15: Crescent, Capitol Ltd. & Empire Builder

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by mtuandrew
This Spring Break, I took a trip to Clemson University for a fraternal convention, and stayed over there to investigate their grad school in history (I also talked extensively with Dr. Richard Saunders, a noted expert on railroads in the US.) So, on the way home to Minneapolis, I decided to take the Crescent from Clemson to Washington, the Capitol Limited from Washington to Chicago (with a night stopover in Pittsburgh), and Megabus from there to Minneapolis, since it was $25 cheaper at the time.

The first leg (Crescent) was excellent. I like the Amfleets, they ride well and have lots of legroom, though the seat controls have always been clunky. One thing I miss from airliners is the air vent above the seat, and wish more Amtrak cars were so equipped. We did have one annoyingly goofy car attendant though, who (for instance) bid us adieu in Washington with "I have an important message for all of you, and this may upset some of you: Elvis is dead."

We got to Washington on time or very nearly, and I went to change my ticket for the Capitol Limited so I'd have a stopover in PGH. It tacked another $100 onto the price of the ticket, which disappointed me greatly. The Capitol Limited to PGH was only OK. CSX's dispatchers weren't the best to us, and we arrived 45 minutes late, but the ride was generally ok, and the Superliner cars were decent as normal.

From Pittsburgh to Chicago, the ride was a nightmare. I'm sure some of you have heard about this train, which started out delayed because some schmuck put his luggage onboard at WAS and then left. The bomb squad had to get called out to check it, everyone had to leave the train for 4 hours, and by that time, our slot was shot to hell. It arrived in PGH at 3:15 AM, so we were picking up time, but Ohio's NS dispatchers were incredibly spotty. When we were moving, we moved quick, slaloming between mains to pass a whole series of southeast-bound freights, but we were often put in the hole while slow freights chugged their way past.

We finally got into Chicago at 2:50 PM, over 6 hours later than scheduled. I'd missed my (non-refundable) Megabus, which left at 2 PM - who was I to think that a 5 hour layover wouldn't be enough? Luckily, Amtrak held the Empire Builder until 3 PM, just long enough for me to run in, buy a ticket, and run to that platform. Again, the first part of this trip was fine - Amtrak tried mightily to make up time, and the CP dispatchers obliged. We had an especially long stop at Milwaukee, but were making up time until, somewhere before Portage, a freight train derailed over both main tracks. We were stuck there for I believe 4 hours, and despite the train crew spending as much time at 79 mph as possible after we got moving, arrival in the Twin Cities was at 3 AM again.

-Amtrak was willing to work with me on short notice to get a ticket on the Empire Builder
-when we had a green signal, the train crews worked their butt off
-none of the track was really that bad
-the Superliners and Amfleets are still comfortable
-I already have a complaint report filed, which Amtrak will be working on come Monday

-Amtrak bathrooms are still ridiculous, I don't care what anyone says.
-Overpriced lounge and bar car
-(I didn't have any this trip, but) the food in the dining car isn't as good as microwave dinners, and costs 4x as much
-They didn't let me simply get off the train at PGH, and get back on the next day to finish my trip, but made me buy the specific ticket for $90 more
-They didn't give me a free ticket to get on the Builder after missing my connection
-Freight railroads need more capacity for their own trains before they can think of handling Amtrak. The government and railroads need to fund a continuous passing track for Amtrak, intermodal and perishable trains from PGH to CHI especially, and a lot of the terminal trackage needs upgrading to 40 mph in the Chicagoland area.
-Freight dispatchers often don't care about Amtrak, and will let it get another 3 hours behind what it was supposed to be.

I recognize it's not Amtrak's fault for most of these shenanigans. However, I'd think twice before traveling on the segment between Pittsburgh and Chicago, considering the ongoing massive delays on that stretch of track. I'm also hoping that the customer relations department will find in my favor. If they don't return at least a respectable portion of my fare (and preferably find a way to chisel that fare from the eastern Class 1s that caused the delays), I wouldn't give them more money in the near future.

  by David Benton
Thanks for the trip report . sad to hear of the delays , hopefully you will get some compensation .

  by mtuandrew
Hi Mr. Benton,

Yes, I called Amtrak and they gave me a travel voucher for the PGH-CHI and CHI-MSP legs. A bit of a pain compared to having them refund my money, but I'm sure I'll be using Amtrak again anyway.

  by David Benton
oh well , i guess thats a reasonable compromise .

  by alex45
that seems pretty reasonable to me :)