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  1. #1
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    How timely is Amtrak?

    Considering the train because of how much cheaper it is and how much easier it is to deal with my bike. But I have to make a connecting train in DC. One train arrives at 12:40 PM, the next departs at 3:00 PM. That seems like plenty of time, but I'd have to retrieve my bike and check it into the next train, so maybe more like 2:30. And I've been on an Amtrak train that was an hour late on a 3 hour trip, but only once in three or four trips, so I don't know if that's the norm.

    If I miss my connection, then it's either spend a night in DC or fly, the first of which will negate any money savings, and the second of which will both cost more than having flown the whole and add the hassle of flying with my bike.

    A two hour window between connections wouldn't bother me with air travel, but the Amtrak site doesn't seem to want to sell me that combination of tickets, which makes me nervous. It makes me think they don't think that's a reliable connection.

    There is a lot I like about the idea of taking my bike on the train, but all the convenience goes out the window if I miss the connection.

  2. #2
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Might be better in the East.. Amtrak has no rails in the west,
    so the Freight, their track, moves first, and the passengers wait.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    Might be better in the East.. Amtrak has no rails in the west,
    so the Freight, their track, moves first, and the passengers wait.
    I don't know that it's any different out here. The question is, I suppose, does Amtrak factor that in to their schedule, or are their timetables simply a best case scenario? I've had mostly good luck, but I've rode in-state routes where I could see where they might be more likely to be on time. The one delay was not due to having to share the track (which I think they do), but due to a glitch in the signalling system.

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    depends where you're going. It's pretty much on time going from DC to NY, south of DC I've had things take a long time twice.

  5. #5
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    On which train will you be arriving into DC? Which train will be departing? Different routes have different reliability.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Play the odds. 75% chance you'll make the connection, maybe better. Bed down in the station if you don't. What folks who travel by bus do.

    Another option would be to to connect with a Warmshowers host. Explain the situation. Most likely someone will let you overnight. Might even pick you up. WS host are usually very hospitable and accomodating. 'Course, you gotta sign up to be a host.
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  7. #7
    mev
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    It varies by route, but your 1/3 timing is about what I've experienced on long haul routes and a little higher close to end of the line.

    More local routes like the Amtrak Cascades between Eugene, OR and Vancouver, BC I've had better timing - particularly from Portland south than Cascades train northbound.

    For long haul routes the delays seem to accumulate so if you are taking a train originating in Florida and going via DC - I'd say better chance of delay than if you were closer to start of the line. Similarly, the Empire Builder that ends in Portland/Seattle seems to have more delays on arriving since close to end of line from Chicago. I would also expect the Coast Starlight going from Seattle to Las Angeles to be late more often Northbound in Portland than southbound since it would have accumulated delays.

    So if your DC train has already started in Florida you might get some accumulated delays though they might also already be apparent when you get on (e.g. NC?) and offer chance to adjust...

  8. #8
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Starting in Cleveland, Capitol Limited to DC, then the Silver Star to Raleigh. I guess if the Silver Star is also late, I'm fine. But if the Capitol is late and the Silver Star is on time, I guess I'm in trouble.

    But there are options. Thanks for the Warm Showers suggestion. I hadn't thought of that. I was looking at hotels, and then noticed that there's also a campground on the outskirts of DC, 10 miles from the station, that's pretty affordable. Since this is the end of a tour, I should be well equipped to camp for the night. If I did that, my extra travel costs wouldn't be that bad. But I'd still lose a day of vacation.

  9. #9
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    Amtrak is pretty good about letting you change your ticket. They let me change to an earlier train even though my bike was already checked through for a later train.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bezalel View Post
    Amtrak is pretty good about letting you change your ticket. They let me change to an earlier train even though my bike was already checked through for a later train.
    That's good. I'll just have hope they are as good about it in the other direction, switching to a later train. I will ask before booking the trip.

  11. #11
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Check the bike through? I have found the schedules to be a crap shoot and I primarily use the Palmetto and the Silver Meteor. You can check the on time performance on the Amtrak website. I have had only had two out of over 100 rides run more than 3 hours late. One of those was due to some Darwin Award winner driving around the down gates and getting plowed by a 300,000# locomotive with 6 cars behind it at 75+mph...of course they had to hang around and wait for the investigation and get a replacement crew. Outside of something like that I have been fortunate. You can also keep track of the progress via cellphone and make your decision as to what you need to do.

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  12. #12
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Yeah. I just like having everything planned out ahead of time, and don't like the uncertainty. It's an attitude that has not served me well when touring, so I should probably get over that.

  13. #13
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
    Yeah. I just like having everything planned out ahead of time, and don't like the uncertainty. It's an attitude that has not served me well when touring, so I should probably get over that.

    I am one of those people that do not like to have things screwed by others. Unfortunately travel, regardless of the mode is a crap shoot and you have to just learn to go with the flow. With Amtrak I have been pretty lucky and once I get on the train and get moving I can relax and not worry about too much, because I know eventually it will get there.

    Aaron
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  14. #14
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    From my experience ...

    1) be sure the stations you intend to use will load and unload bicycles. Few do.

    2) on the west coast, it's a good idea to plan an extra 12 hours into your schedule. I was stuck in Sacramento for 10 hours on one occasion because of track sharing issues ... finally arrived in Eugene 12 hours late. Messed up my plans, missed seeing family. I was told that it happens all the time there.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    From my experience ...

    1) be sure the stations you intend to use will load and unload bicycles. Few do.

    2) on the west coast, it's a good idea to plan an extra 12 hours into your schedule. I was stuck in Sacramento for 10 hours on one occasion because of track sharing issues ... finally arrived in Eugene 12 hours late. Messed up my plans, missed seeing family. I was told that it happens all the time there.
    Both stations are major cities with baggage service. I'm fairly certain I could put a boxed bike on either train. I guess I just need to determine whether they will load it or I will need to. But me picking up my bike and putting it on a train is certainly not a hardship as long as I know ahead of time.

    A twelve hour delay would be a pain, but any delay over 2.5 hours would have the same overall delay in my arrival given that there's only one possible connecting train that day. Although if I'm going to find a place to stay for the night, I'd rather be wandering an unfamiliar city in the daylight.
    Last edited by Rob_E; 03-26-12 at 10:10 PM. Reason: One, bug, ugly typo.

  16. #16
    mev
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    Quote Originally Posted by wahoonc View Post
    You can check the on time performance on the Amtrak website. I have had only had two out of over 100 rides run more than 3 hours late.
    Interesting and a little surprising to me. Last summer the Empire Builder line was shut down for midwest flooding and had enough delays to get newspaper articles about this route: http://www.usatoday.com/weather/floo...railways_n.htm

    Last August, I rode the train back from Whitefish, MT and was 2.5 hours late into Portland and at least as much at some spots along the way. I could watch the delay accumulate on the web site by checking departure times from previous stations. The reason since the tracks had re-opened not long before the speeds were slower. When I asked - the staff admitted that being 2-3 hours late was "usual" for the previous weeks and not much later or earlier. However, their on-time performance for Empire Builder is higher than Cascades which I've ridden perhaps a dozen times in past year.

    I don't have 100 rides on Amtrak but can count at least three more than three hours late. One on east coast after storms knocked out the signalling system, one on west coast after we hit a huge tree trunk that had rolled on the tracks, one coming into Denver from Chicago,...

  17. #17
    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    Check the Amtrak website under "Status". You can get an idea of how the trains you are interested in are doing.

    We just went through that drill on a trip we are planning this summer.

    On the west cost a 2.5 hour delay would be considered good.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    That is a very good thought. Tonight I see that the train is slated to leave Cleveland 30 minutes late but arrive in DC 30 minutes early. Nice trick. I'll have to check tomorrow to see if they pull it off.

  19. #19
    Hooked on Touring
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    Why do you need to get your bike from baggage in DC? It should check thru.
    Wouldn't hurt to put a full 8 1/2 by 11 sheet taped on the box with connection info.
    Large print - "Please Transfer to Silver Star - Train #XX - Dep WDC - 3:00p. Thanks"
    You will almost certainly make the connection - your bike might be delayed a day.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
    Why do you need to get your bike from baggage in DC? It should check thru.
    Wouldn't hurt to put a full 8 1/2 by 11 sheet taped on the box with connection info.
    Large print - "Please Transfer to Silver Star - Train #XX - Dep WDC - 3:00p. Thanks"
    You will almost certainly make the connection - your bike might be delayed a day.
    +1

  21. #21
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
    Why do you need to get your bike from baggage in DC? It should check thru.
    Wouldn't hurt to put a full 8 1/2 by 11 sheet taped on the box with connection info.
    Large print - "Please Transfer to Silver Star - Train #XX - Dep WDC - 3:00p. Thanks"
    You will almost certainly make the connection - your bike might be delayed a day.
    I have never done a connecting train on Amtrak, so I wasn't aware that they would do that. But, given that the Amtrak online system won't allow me to buy these two trips as a package, I'm guessing Amtrak considers this too close of a connection. I may have to buy two tickets, one to DC, and one to Raleigh, and do my own transfer.

  22. #22
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
    Considering the train because of how much cheaper it is and how much easier it is to deal with my bike.
    I can see the "easier to deal with the bike" part, but are you sure it is cheaper? I know that even with the higher price for taking the bike I have when planning ahead always found flying to be cheaper for my trips when I priced them both ways as long as I picked one of the more bike friendly airlines and booked ahead a ways. Also, I tend to find sitting on a train for many hours on end extremely exhausting.

    Sometimes I do find the train cheaper, but usually only when I need to book on pretty short notice (like a few days or less ahead).

    BTW, if I took the train and missed the connecting train I'd just sleep in the station.

    For me, I find it much more pleasant when I have either no real set schedule or a very flexible one. That way if I get set back a day it is not a huge deal.

  23. #23
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    I can see the "easier to deal with the bike" part, but are you sure it is cheaper? I know that even with the higher price for taking the bike I have when planning ahead always found flying to be cheaper for my trips when I priced them both ways as long as I picked one of the more bike friendly airlines and booked ahead a ways. Also, I tend to find sitting on a train for many hours on end extremely exhausting.
    Definitely cheaper. Best airfare I could find was still at least $50 more then Amtrak before I started figuring in my bike. If it was just a matter of $50, the flight would be the way to go, but once I started looking at getting the bike home, it had the potential to double my travel expenses. Dealing with the bike seems like it has the potential to cost as much as my airfare. Plus I had convoluted plans on how to get my bike boxed and shipped and get me to the airport or get my bike boxed and to the airport with me. When I realized that Amtrak had the potential to cost half as much, I started thinking about how much easier it also made dealing with my bike: bike to the station, put in a box with minimum disassembly, reassemble at the other end, and bike home. It takes a lot longer, but I was already considering one day completely lost to travel, and this way costs possibly more than half as much and has none of the complicated planning to get to and from the airport with no bike or with a boxed bike. Plus Amtrak's much more liberal baggage policy means that should be able to travel with all my gear for no extra charge. When flying, I was either looking at shipping my stuff on ahead or paying extra baggage fees.

    My initial plans involved a round trip, and I found an option that was much closer to Amtrak prices, possibly cheaper, but that price was gone when I had moved from planning to actual ticket buying, plus I went from needing round trip to needing only one way and wasn't getting any round trip discounts.

  24. #24
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I've taken Amtrak for several bike trips out west. It used to be notoriously late. A guy told me, "You don't take the train because you want to arrive on time; you take the train because you want to take the train." However, the last couple of times it has been on time. In fact, there were a couple times when it was running ahead of schedule and we waited a few extra minutes in the station to get re-synced. An Amtrak worker told me that had been working on it and now their trains are typically on time.

    Still, I wouldn't bet the house on it.

  25. #25
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
    Definitely cheaper.
    It depends on when, how far, where you travel, and how far ahead you book. If Amtrak works better for your trip that's great, but it never really has for me yet. I know that I have done the comparison quite a few times and found flying cheaper in every case except short notice or short distance trips.

    Then there is the 70+ hours it takes if going coast to coast on a train...

    Your point about being able to box up the bike at the train station is a good one. That is a really nice aspect of train travel. When heading to a tour that is a very minor issue for me though. It is easy for me to get a ride to the airport, but if it was an issue I can hop on the light rail with my boxed bike for $1.60 to get to the airport.

    For returning home, dealing with the bike is a bigger issue. Going that way I usually am happy to pay a bike shop to box and ship the bike home at a total cost of about $100. It is a bigger price hit, but by them I am ready to be shed of the need to deal with the bike and anxious to just hop on a plane home.

    As far as baggage fees and the bike costing as much as the ticket for air travel... With Southwest bags are free except for a $50 bike fee. With frontier bags are free including the bike with some classes of tickets and a $20 bike charge with the cheapest class of ticket. I have been lucky enough to have a local airport that is a SW hub and destinations that Southwest flies to.

    As a result of all of that I am unlikely to use Amtrak to get to a tour, but more likely to use them to get home where the advantage of riding to the station and boxing up the bike is a big plus. Also on short notice or shorter distances Amtrak is likely to have a price advantage. So, I probably would use Amtrak more often for the return trip except that I have been able to fly non-revenue stand by for a low price thanks to a family friend who is a long time airline employee.

    The fact that I have recently started using a soft case makes it all even easier. I can fit my bike and gear all in it if I need to and still have it under 50 pounds. It fits easily even in the back seat of small cars and carries easily with a shoulder strap, so no problem with cabs, subways, light rail, or local buses. I can fairly cheaply mail it home or ahead to the end of my tour, or could even carry it on the tour if I was less of a gram counter.

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