Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Train in vain

Filed under : Rants,Travel
On July 15, 2011
At 1:11 pm
Comments : 6

Well, here it is, my first rant about my trip. Lots of people will be unsurprised by the fact that it’s about Amtrak, but frankly, I’ve always had pretty good experiences with them. I guess this is the first time I’ve attempted to find out where all the dollars that the Northeast Corridor trains, with their high volume and overpriced fares, go. I took the Amtrak Cascades from Vancouver to Portland and it really couldn’t have been more annoying. For starters, it’s treated as though this is The First Train you’ve ever taken. Instructions on how to take trains and emergency procedures are given continually. Now, maybe it is for most people, but it still irritated me to no end.

But that was a small trifle compared to the whole seating arrangement. I suppose it’s my fault for not doing enough research, but it turns out that one side of the train sees glorious views and the other, for a good portion of the trip, sees a wall of dirt. I guess that might be OK (well, it isn’t but what can you do about it?) if they let people pick their own seats. But they don’t. They assign them based on your arrival time at the station (you can’t do it in advance). The train is at 6:40am which tells you how much effort is needed to get there early. I arrived at 5:45am which was the earliest you can get there by public transport. Most of the train was already on line ahead of me. Once on board, I found that I had missed getting a scenic side seat by two people. I know that because the couple who cut me got one and I didn’t. That’s another story that I’m really too bitter to tell. Beyond that, they seated a guy next to me who had a computer so getting up was an ordeal and once again, I was in front of a disruptive child. All this would have been fine on an east coast Amtrak, because I would have gathered my things and moved, or more likely, staked out a good seat from the beginning and maneuvered to get it. But here, frequent announcements demanded that you not switch seats as Amtrak had it all carefully planned for upcoming riders at other stops. They even declared that if you saw an empty car to not sit there because they were for future passengers and “we have our own system.”

I think this was the moment I began to boil with rage, looking at the dirt wall. You mean there were empty seats but they were sitting unenjoyed so that people getting on at Seattle or wherever could have them? Holy fuck. As if this weren’t enough, the fabulous system that NW Amtrak had in place seemed to work great as the people who came on there all had assignments for seats already taken by Vancouver people.

So here’s my advice, Amtrak: learn from your Eastern counterparts. Let people sit wherever they want. It all seems to work out just fine and has for years. People getting on at later stops get whatever seats remain, that’s the rule of the rails. I think this is why communism failed, you know?

This was the first train that I couldn’t wait to get off of. Naturally, it was late. Thanks, Amtrak!

And here’s my advice for future travelers: either get there reeeeally early, like 4:30am or else, after the border passport check about an hour in (you really are matched to your seat there), walk through and try to find a better seat. By Bellingham, though, I found that new people had already grabbed all the good ones. So your window on having anything decent is pretty short.

And now back to dodging hippies in Portland. There will be no pictures attached to this post. You’re welcome!


6 Comments for this post

  1. kbeanz says:

    You never told us which side to maneuver for. I’m assuming the left side, but I could be so, so wrong.

  2. Beth says:

    Oh that is just bizarre and awful and I’m sorry you had to go through it. My midwestern Amtrak experience (Wolverine and Blue Water) were seat-yourself and I moved around a lot with no problems. They did corral certain people to certain cars (because some stops didn’t have platform room for all cars to open and it’s easier on conductors).

  3. Becca says:

    Sorry, kb, that should be right side as you go south and left if you go north. The coast is stunning and the train hugs the cliffside so you either get lovely water or zilch.

    Beth, maybe those are also meant for people who regularly take trains? I really don’t know what the Cascades problem is.

  4. North of the City says:

    Evil, evil Amtrak! Can you imagine the riots if they tried that sort of system on the NE Corridor?

  5. Becca says:

    I’d be at the front of the mob, North.

  6. Elena says:

    What a crummy system! Geez, if I wanted to see a wall of dirt, I could just stay home.

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