After this past weekend....

I'm thinking seriously about dropping this whole railroading thing.

I had the misfortune to have to take Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited from Cleveland to Boston on Wednesday; and then to have to take it back on Sunday.

These guys don't even know how to spell Timetable. And their communication with the troops down the line is abysmal.

It was supposed to leave around 4:10 a.m. on Wednesday. Got a call sometime Wednesday morning indicating that it was running two hours late. No problem; the weather was absolutely horrendous. Okay, so we're leaving at 6:10 a.m. Only there was no train.

When I asked, I was told it was an hour out and moving. At any rate, when we got on the train sometime after 10:30, I was already somewhat miffed. The long and the short of it is that we arrived at South Station at 6:30 a.m. - the next day. ...Only twelve hours late.

The trip back on Sunday wasn't so bad - only two hours late. Of course, I had originally been scheduled out of Boston on Saturday - but that train was completely cancelled.

I'm asking some of you oldtimers.... How is it that those trains - with clunky old steam engines and telegraphic communications - could keep to a schedule within minutes and now, seventy years later, with beautiful new equipment, electronic communications, etc., etc., etc., we can't keep a schedule within even the same day?



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Hi Andy; Sorry for the frustration, I don't think things would have been a whole lot better flying, to listen to the news reports anyway.

But to put forth some reasons for the problem!!!

It all goes back to those folk generally referred to as 'bean counters'. Because of years of 'bottom line' thinking/actions, several things have happened.

(1) Passenger movement is no longer a priority. The passenger trains of today, wait their turn for the track, with less priority than some 'scheduled freight movements. (2) Track maintenance is no longer such that 120 MPH movement is possible (As a generality. There ARE some places where it's possible --- the exception, not the rule.) (3) More freight movements (for the passenger movements to work around.

The end result, is that when things such as weather add in their complications, things get off kilter quite quickly and easily.

Chuck D.

Reply to
Charles Davis

with clunky old steam engines and telegraphic communications - could keep to a schedule within minutes and now, seventy years later, with beautiful new equipment, electronic communications, etc., etc., etc., we can't keep a schedule within even the same day?<

I've heard this question asked many times and the only answer I've ever heard was that in the olden days a passenger train had TOs over everything on the lines. Today they have TOs over nothing. That means that line of freight is in front of you.

Reply to
Jon Miller

Should have added it's probably going to get worse. With this clamor over tank cars in populated areas it means sidings in the middle of nowhere and then the time it takes to get them back and assembled into trains means more crews going dead in the yard. It's just modern society and it's rules!

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Jon Miller

Because Amtrak doesn't own the tracks they run on, except for certain corridors. The route the Lake Shore runs on - the "water level route"

- was originally mostly the same route the famous 20th Century Limited ran on and it was built by the New York Central railroad. Those tracks then reverted to Conrail and are now owned (mostly) by CSX, as far as I know. CSX, obviously, has no real interest in hauling passengers, or making it easy on Amtrak to do so.

In fact, it's only because of the original agreement that formed Amtrak that freight companies have to deal with Amtrak at all. The federal government basically agreed to take the money-losing passenger trains off the now-freight companies' hands partially in exchange for permission to run them on their tracks. Those agreements have been amended a bunch of times over the years but basically a company like CSX probably can't see how it has any reason to even associate itself with Amtrak at this point - the days when the freight companies still saw Amtrak's trains almost as children who had left the nest to live on their own are long gone. That said, some freight companies do treat Amtrak better than others - BNSF, for example, still seems to give priority to the Empire Builder in my experience, and they maintain the tracks really well for a smooth ride. I was shocked by how rough the water level route had become last time I rode the Lake Shore Limited.

The basic thing when riding Amtrak is you have to just accept that timetables are more of a suggestion than anything. If you can do that, you'll still get a lot of enjoyment out of the experience. Amtrak really has very little control over their destiny; from priority given to freight trains to equipment breakdowns caused by a lack of money for maintenance, they have to rely on outside help for pretty much everything they do.

btw, I personally love Amtrak and I'm going to be modeling them pretty extensively when I finally start building my first real layout next week. The thing that makes them so interesting for me is just the sheer variety of equipment they own and have owned - I mean their original equipment roster was cobbled together from every other major passenger railroad, and they still mix and match all sorts of stuff even today. I like the old pre-Amtrak matched streamliners of the

30's-50's too, but I also love seeing how Amtrak mixes all these new and old parts together and how no two trains ever really look exactly the same.

- Jeff

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"Andy" wrote in message news:

Are you considering not being a model railroader, or just not riding Amtrak any more? After all, this is a model railroading newsgroup. If you want opinions galore on Amtrak, you should also try posting to misc.transport.rail.americas, where they talk about Amtrak about 90% of the time.

Uh oh. Any train story that begins with the Lake Shore Limited never seems to end well. There's a reason why it's called the "Late Shore Limited" by those in the know. Someone actually made a graphic for it:

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I'm sure they can spell "timetable", they just can't do much about it. Nobody wants to be late. It's not like the crew gets paid overtime, so the sooner they get done, the sooner they can go home. The problem here is money, or lack thereof. As for communication, that's always been a problem going back to the

1800's. And it's not just an Amtrak problem or even a railroad problem. Airlines (see jetBlue) and commuter agencies (see MBTA) also have problems passing on information to rank & file employees and to customers.

Hey, Amtrak actually called you to tell you it was 2 hours late? That's pretty good. I don't think I've heard of that happening before. Usually, you just show up at the station on time and you end up waiting for an extra

2 hours. As for there being no train at the 2 hour mark, that's not so surprising. After all, you did say the weather was bad.

Ok, over 6 hours late is pretty bad at Cleveland, and 12 hours late into Boston is pretty awful. But...this was Wednesday, Feb. 14, right? With all the snow and ice? Some jetBlue customers sat on an airplane for 11 and a half hours, and didn't even leave the airport. They had to go back to the terminal. An exhange student group of 20 kids from Waltham, MA got screwed by Delta for over 12 hours in New York (with no food or had to have a boarding pass to get that, and they wouldn't give them any), and they had to return to Boston (they still haven't got to Spain). So while 12 hours late is pretty frickin' bad, at least you got to where you were going. Hundreds of airline passengers still hadn't got to where they want to go even after 2 days because of flight cancellations (according to news reports).

As I said, talk to jetBlue customers...they had some 139 out of 600 total flights canceled yesterday...5 days after the storm. And 2 hours? That's actually a very good performance for that train.

You want to know why? It's called MONEY! Back in the golden days (1900-1950) of railroading, the railroads had money. They made lots of it. They may not have profited it all that much at times, but the income was always there. The railroads used to employ thousands of men, many of them were track maintence men and crews. These crews had a certain territory that they maintained, and they inspected it daily. When it snowed, they shoveled out switches. When it was real bad, they would call out the flangers and snow plows. Even smaller railroads like the New Haven still had over a half dozen large snow plows in 1953 and had over a dozen the 6 Jordan Spreaders they had. The philosophy back then was to keep the railroad open at all costs. Today, the railroads are like any modern industry in that the bottom line is all that matters, and you just do the bare bones minimal to keep the trains rolling . And CSX (which is the railroad that the Lake Shore runs on) is the king of this approach. The problem here is that when you run on a shoestring, you have very little room for error. And one frozen switch can mean long, long delays. For example, in the old days, if they had a switch freeze, the dispatcher would proabably notify the track maintenance foreman for that territory. He, in turn, would notify the work crew who had the responsibility for that switch, and they would go fix it. They would get to it quickly as they were waiting nearby in their wayside shanty, and the crew of 4 or 6 guys would thaw the switch relatively quickly. Today, there is probably one switch maintainer for over 100 miles of territory, and he'd have to drive there in his truck from wherever he currently is. And if there's two switches frozen, well, that second one would have to wait until the first is freed up (after all, he's one guy). Why doesn't the railroad have more maintenance men? Because they cost too much money. The railroads almost died 30-40 years ago, there was serious talk about nationalizing all of them (like a super Conrail). It was a near thing. And one of the prime reasons why they almost went under was high labor costs and over regulation. The gov't got off their backs with regulation, the RR's stopped hiring so many people...and now they can make enough money to actually be attractive to Wall St. again. But the result of all that is that railroads just aren't the "all weather" transportation service they used to be. To be on time, all the time, requires a lot of money. You have to have spare locos for emergencies, spare passenger cars in case one fails inspection, extra track to go around a broken down train, aux. routes to get around accidents, etc. The railroads used to have all this excess capacity that came in handy for emergencies, but was totally wasted on days when the railroad ran well. And when the railroad's in a deep financial hole (the New Haven, for example, was $55 million in the hole by 1969...back when a $1 million was real money), the excess gets cut first.

Why is it that people can get all get worked up about Amtrak being late, and start exclaiming that they will never ride the rails again, but when people get stuck on an airplane for half a day, you don't hear them exclaiming that they will never fly again?

Paul A. Cutler III

************* Weather Or No Go New Haven *************
Reply to
Pac Man

Not just the things you mention. It used to be that there were train order stations every 10 or 20 miles that were staffed. Plus, local dispatchers in many locations. Plus, snow clearing crews and equipment in many locations as well.

With the huge amount of local control and equipment gone, it is no longer anywhere near as easy for railroads to adjust to exceptional circumstances such as weather.

It just means replacing 99% reliability with 60% reliability, over increasing the amount of money in the bottom line. Unfortunately, the owner-operator trucking outfits have cut the profitability of the entire transportation system so much that it is very difficult for any mode of transport to make money now.

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Mmmmm I'm planning a Railroad vacation in the States next year, 30 day pass for Europeans around $ 400,-. But after reading the comments here I'm wondering if I'll get any railroading done. Here in Holland the national rr company NS gets fined if they have more then 15% of trains off timetable.

If I still decide to go next year what would the advice be on planning as to days not aible to travel?

Greetz Jan

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Reply to
Jan(Bouli)Van Gerwen

You'll certainly get lots of railroading done - just that you'll have lots of time in places you don't expect to be and that mostly within railway property!

Regards, Greg.P. (always look for the positives)

Reply to
Greg Procter

If you are planning for spring/summer/fall, there won't be serious weather related problem -- well, there might be if you decide to do the circle tour, which will take you into hurricane and tornado territory. ;-)

Go to Anmtrak's website, and study the rial network. Then consider how huge the USA is. A couple years ago, my wife and I did some preliminary planning for an Amtrak circle tour, riding down to Texas via Detroit and Washington (I want to see the Vietnam memorial, one of my students is on it), then up to California via the Four Corners, then Oregon, and across the northern tier of states back to Chicago, Detroit, and then Toronto. I figured it would take about 7 to 10 days to that, because to make such a tour one would have to stay overnight in several places before catching the next train in the general direction of where on wanted to go. In addition, we wanted to visit relatives and friends in Texas, California, Oregon, Minnesota, and Michigan, in that order. End result: a three to four week trip... We didn't go. May do it next year.

That being said, rail is the best way to see the country. The second best is bus, but it's not as comfortable. Either way, you'll meet a lot of friendly, helpful, and interesting people.

BTW, expect to spend from $30 to $100/day for food, depending on where and what you eat. Per person.

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$100/day/person? Unless this is also a tour of the most expensive restaurants along Amtrak's route, a few weeks on that budget and they'd make you go by freight train :)


Reply to
Dale Carlson

Well, I don't mean every day. :-) But my estimate is actually the range of meal expenses we had on a road trip to Texas in 2001, on which the two of us averaged just over $60 a day each for meals. And we didn't look for the fanciest restaurants, nor did we eat every meal in a restaurant: we bought stuff at supermarkets and ate picnic lunches at rest stops, too. We even went to Denny's a couple times, when we were desperate. :-) We did treat ourselves to a dinner at the best restaurant in one place: that was an even $120 for the two of us, including drinks and tips. And taxes, which varied from state to state.

$100/person per day is easy: $10 for breakfast, $20 for lunch, another $20 for a couple of coffee + snack breaks, and $50 for dinner. Including drinks and tips.


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In 2001, the exchange rate Euro vs. Dollar would have been quite a bit different than it is today.

I can only think of maybe one or two restaurants here in Portland, Oregon where one would spend $50 per person for dinner (though there are certainly cities that are more expensive, and we have no sales tax on restaurant food - yet).

I can't help but think that you are taking your expenses in Euros and translating them into today's dollar. Thanks to overambitious spending by our government during the past 5 years, I would think that one would need far fewer Euros today than in 2001 (though the same US$).

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Take a look on Amtrak's website. I think they have some dining car menus posted. This will give you an idea. But one can figure $10 for breakfast, maybe $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner eating in regular sit down restaurants pretty easily, if you include tax and tips. Off the train, prices will be similar in tourist areas.

If you go for fast food for any of the above, you can cut it in half, easily. Also note that in some more rural parts of the country, food can be a lot cheaper than in big cities. In most places, BBQ tends to be both better and cheaper at independent, run down looking places.

Even in a supermarket, a sandwich, beverage, bag of chips and a piece of fruit can easily be $7-8, but the deli sandwich might feed two.

Have fun, whatever you do!



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It's a wonder you're back from that trip! So many stops, how many miles did you average per day in actual travel? {;^)

Reply to
Brian Smith

Meals used to be included with sleeping accomodations. Not that these accomodations are cheap but, if you are travelling overnite for very many nites it's not that unreasonable.


Reply to
Paul Newhouse


Well, I know that Portland is not a "sophisticated" town. You pay a lot for sophistication. :-) -- My nephew and wife live in Portland. He's a lutier, learning from one of your established masters in that craft.

No, these were US dollars. We live in N. Ontario, and have a daughter and grandchildren in Texas. Hence the road trip. Once I shed a number of volunteer responsibilities, we'll do it again, but take a lot longer. Maybe do it with Amtrak, and rental cars if needed. A lot less stress.

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From Midland, Michigan, to Brownsville, Texas, took us 3-1/2 days. On the road from about 6am to about 8pm every day. We took an extra day coming back, mostly poking around Missouri (lovely state), and were forced to take an extra day in Michigan on account of a snowstorm. (Late January). My niece in Midland hosted us going and coming.

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Well, I think you're both right. The $35 Portland meal is a good upper limit, but, only BEFORE the wine/bar tab is included. I'm ancient enough to go mainly for the food, not the "ambience". Thank you.


PS There are some darn good restaurants in Portland.

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Sounds like it was an enjoyable jaunt for you.

Reply to
Brian Smith

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