I decided to take a train from Denver to Reno recently. Having ridden Amtrak in the mid 80s on the same route, I thought it might be interesting to see what may have changed over all those many years. I mean, after all, some things should change in that amount of time, right? One would think. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. The only that that really changed was time ...25 years have passed and Amtrak is still in the pits of its own demise. But, I guess that I shouldn't have really expected too much considering that the progressive idea of providing public transportation well into the future was doomed before it every got off the ground. Thank you, Mr. oil company. Thank you Mr. auto manufacturer. Oh, and thank you so much, Mr. politician. You all sure know how to win friends and influence people.
So, anyway ...back to the Denver - Reno route comparison.
We have one train starting in Chicago, terminating in Oakland, and back again. One schedule also. The times are absolutely the same as they were 25 years ago. Heading west, the California Zephyr arrives in Denver (everyday - when it is on time) at approximately 07:30AM local time. It leaves at 08:05AM local time. About 15 hours later, it arrives in Salt Lake City at 11:00PM local time, and it leaves at 11:30PM. About 9 hours later, it arrives in Reno at 08:30AM for a total of 25 1/2 hrs. It then leaves Reno heading for the trip over the mountains to its final destination in Oakland. I guess the theory of this schedule is: if it works, don't change it.
It was curious to me that, with a schedule of this type, someone wanting to leave Salt Lake City and travel to Reno would have to show up at 11:00PM to catch the train. ...seems a bit ridiculous for a town the size of SLC to have such a late departure time. Regardless, it is what it is. The schedule for SLC, when the Zephyr is heading in the easterly direction also has an interesting arrival time - 3AM. Again, when heading west, its arrival is 11PM and when heading east, its arrival is (approx 3AM). This schedule has not changed in 25 years. So, I guess if I wanted to go to SLC at a decent hour, I should just drive a car or take an airplane. So much for the hook in my back provided by Mr Oil and Mr Auto Manufacturer.
The service was not that great. The Coach car was suspiciously the same (maybe the exact same car!) from 25 years ago. I may have been asking too much for the schedule to become more suitable to travelers (attracting more potential customers?) but somehow it did seem right to expect that the Coach car would be "upgraded" from 25 years ago. Nope, not a change. The same seats, the same recliner devices, the same windows, ...oh, I might add, No Smoking was added over those years, so forgive me, some things did change. The restrooms were absolutely inadequate, barely enough room to breath, let alone to reach your hand around to complete your business. Dirt was rule of the day (or so it appeared) for the attendant responsible for cleaning the cars. When I did see this attendant, he was rushing so fast down the aisle, that I was only able to guess what the device was in his hands -- maybe a type of vacuum cleaner, who knows. In twenty five hours of travel time, I saw him once.
Food services were exactly the same as 25 years ago. I can't for the life of me understand why Amtrak charges so much for food. I mean it is ridiculously high-priced. So, I refrained...my choice. Coincidentally, I saw many people on the train who had their own coolers, stocked with food and other assorted goodies. Now that is what I call good planning. I failed in that area because I was not well-enough informed ahead of time. I guess that assuming prices would be fair was not a good assumption on my part. My wallet did not suffer, just my body over a 25 hour ride with nary an apple to consume. Poor me. Of course, I could have gotten some really quality vending food at various stations for a more fair price but my dietary needs dictated otherwise.
Sleeping arrangements were, on this overnight trip, not very considerate to say the least. Trying to get comfortable consumed most of my time and sleep became a commodity I was unable to afford, despite the screams that my body repeatedly made. I guess I could have purchased a sleeping room, but for $179 (cheapest room available) added to my fare, I changed my mind. My fare was only $121 from Reno to Denver but an added room would incur another $179 on top of that. Go figure. I thought about that rate structure for a few minutes and decided who, in their right mind, would pay that rate. Not me, obviously. The room had two tiny beds, but considering that I was only one person, I assumed that I would have to pay for two people even though I would be the only person in the room. ...just didn't seem fair to me, so I suffered the coach seat arrangement which, did I mention?, was the same as it was 25 years ago.
Not much has changed over the years. I don't really believe that it is a case of: "...if it works, don't change it." I do think that it is a case of: "...we ain't never gonna change this system until gasoline hits $10/gallon.." blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum.
What is going to change this system, folks?
I think I will test the waters again in 25 years. On second thought, I probably won't.
Thanks for a wonderful trip, Mr. Amtrak USA
Product or Service Mentioned: Amtrak Train Service.