Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Amtrak: America's Vaguely Depressing Form Of Travel

The cold stares of people running away from haunting secrets. Staff workers who look like they are plotting to throw scalding acid in your eyes. An Andropov-era color scheme. The distant smell of urine.

This past holiday season, I had my first experience riding on Amtrak. The wife and I were staying with my parents in Lake George, NY. Lake George is a lovely vacation town which is almost completely closed down in the winter months. Thus, we decided to go visit Montreal (about 200 miles away) for a few days.

I also discovered the AMTRAK ADIRONDACK, a line transporting passengers from New York City to Montreal, with a few stops located close to where we were staying. I figured this would definitely beat driving in Canada in the winter.

In retrospect, I should have been scared off from taking the train trip while using the absolutely awful AMTRAK website, apparently designed by the same people who created "Summer Games" for the old Commodore 64.

We decided to leave from the station in Ticonderoga, NY as it was $40 cheaper than leaving from Glens Falls. In my experience, train stations usually are bustling places filled with commuters. Not Ticonderoga! Here, the train station is literally a little booth set up in the middle of the woods, a perfect place to commit a sex offense.

I struggled with the luggage once we climbed on board. The AMTRAK employee snickered and walked past me. We took our seats. The train ride itself wasn't so bad, even though it left an hour late and for some reason our train moved at a speed of about four miles-per-hour. I eventually got hungry and went to the cafe car, where I learned that they can't break more than a $20.

The train was mildly irritating, and then we hit the Canadian border. Here, we had to go through customs. Canadian customs officials (who are, oddly enough, extremely physically attractive) asked us some basic questions about our trip. Then they went to the cafe car. All of the passengers were told to sit until we could depart.

This took four hours. Not once did any AMTRAK officials make an announcement as to what was going on. In fact, no AMTRAK officials even walked into the passenger cars to discuss what was happening. At the three hour mark, I walked to the cafe car to snoop around. Here, an AMTRAK worker leapt up from his seat and told me to immediately go and sit down. Behind him, a Canadian customs official was counting -- I kid you not -- sugar packets.

We eventually made it to Montreal, which is a fantastic city. The train ride back sucked but was inconsequential. AMTRAK is so dreadful and dreary, I'm tempted to take a trip across country in a sleeping car.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have ridden the same train many times and have never experienced the depths of which you speak. It is well documented that customs will take as long as it does and that there is nothing Amtrak can do about it, I'm not sure if there is anything anyone can do about it. Much of this information is documented in Amtrak's Nationwide Timetable. I believe that Amtrak's Web Site has won awards and it could possibly be that your difficulty came from your lack of knowledge about rail travel in general. Also, Amtrak competes with the Immigration Service for money and that has led to a lack of sympathy for train inspection, a subject which should be addressed but it not being done so at this time. I am pleased to see that you are considering taking a cross-country trip by Amtrak on a sleeper. I think that you might enjoy it more, especially if you educate yourself as to the political and financial situation that Amtrak finds itself and you might come to the conclusion that they're doing a good job considering the circumstances. You might also consider going to the National Association of Railroad Passengers Web Site and checking out the information they have available for free. You might even consider taking out a modest membership to available yourself of all their offerings and also join their fight to improve rail travel in our great country.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Geth said...


11:25 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

see web stats