I was kind of annoyed when I read the original $213 across the country on Amtrak post. Actually I was really annoyed. This was not a trip in reality. This doesn’t happen. I took Amtrak from Detroit to Tucson (my ex was terrified of flying and we were tired of driving) and it was literally one of the absolute worst experiences of my life. By the time we arrived I was ready to cry and spent the next week and a half dreading the fact that I was going to have to make the return trip. Eric is spot on with the people smell and the food (which after a few days start to become equally repulsive). Though there are some nice people along for the ride, the majority of people are surly and rude. Not having a sleeper room is enough reason to want to take your life. I thought it was funny that Eric talked about how people just laid out in the observation car and the conductors did nothing about it. I had the exact opposite problem. When there were extra seats, we would try to lay down in order to achieve REM sleep for more than 30 seconds. This would last about 30 seconds before the Amtrak gestapo come and tell you to sit up in your seat like your seven.
I’m glad to hear that there were electrical outlets at all the seats. When I made this trip (2006), there were perhaps one or two outlets in every car. Keep in mind this was even before smartphones were really a thing, and yet everyone was battling over the two outlets on the train car. At one point where we had to change trains, I thought I would be smart and jump into a seat that had an outlet. I would have it made. Unfortunately, I didn’t think that one through and I ended up become the outlet gatekeeper with everyone asking me to unplug the phone of some other jerk-face because they “really needed a charge” and “that other guy’s been using the outlet long enough”. If I was lucky, I actually got the use the outlet myself.
A couple other fine details to point out that weren’t mentioned in Eric’s article…
Don’t plan on getting anywhere on time. One thing they don’t tell you when you book on Amtrak is that the majority of cross-country rail lines are owned by freight companies, not Amtrak. This means that when a line needs to be used by two trains and one of them’s Amtrak… the Amtrak train goes into a siding until the freight traffic goes by. What if the only siding is an hour away from the oncoming freight train? That’s right, you’re sitting there for an hour. If this happened once or twice, might not have been a big deal. However, this happened several time a day. We were supposed to arrive in Tucson at about 7 or 8 at night. We got there at 3 A.M. Sad to say, this was the happy part of the story. On the way back we had delay on top of delay. While I will admit the engineers did their best to make up for lost time, we arrived four hours late to Chicago. Midnight. Perhaps not the worst thing in and of itself, but we were supposed to catch a connecting train back to Detroit (ironically, the most enjoyable part of the trip on the way out) at 8 P.M.
They shuffled out onto the street where we wondered what the hell they were going to do with us. I started to wonder if maybe they were going to murder us and dump us in the Chicago River to cover up the whole mess. Shortly after, a charter bus pulls up and they load us all in as we realize that this is how we’re going to “enjoy” the last leg of our trip. Regardless of how exhausted we were by the time we got back to our station, we still had an hour drive home. Our final arrive time at home? Six in the morning.
The fact that Amtrak is not out of business is nothing but a mystery to me.