(james benedict brown) on the road

Trainspotting

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 25 August, 2006

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Tomorrow morning, the last big trip of my year in Canada kicks off. In keeping with my springtime adventure around the USA and Canada, I’m going to be taking the train for a big chunk of this trip. It’s cheap, comfortable and ten times better for the environment than hurling myself to thirty thousand feet in a marginally larger, but marginally more combustable metal tube.

I make the first leg of my trip tomorrow from Montréal, via New York City, to Washington, DC. Or at least I should do. As some of you may know from my previous travel experiences, Amtrak timetables should be taken purely as a suggestion. The same country that specialises in liberating people around the world by force, seems to have forgotten how to run a railroad.

At 09h50 every day, Amtrak train 68 the Adirondack departs for New York City. After a lazy trot to the border, a long and drawn out border inspection, and a scenic run down the side of Lake Champlain and past the Adirondack mountains, it is scheduled to arrive in New York’s Penn Station, some 613km and nine hours fifty minutes later, at 19h40. Based on this fairly reasonable assumption (even an American train should be able to manage a leisurely 62km/h) I have been sold a ticket with a connection on the 21h05 train from New York City to Washington DC.

Amtrak’s difficulties in keeping to schedule are unfortunately emphasised by their expertise in applying technology to their customer services. Over at amtrak.com you can look up the predicted arrival times of trains running today, and the actual arrival times of trains running over the last five or so days. The same technology is used by “Julie”, Amtrak’s soft-spoken, apologetic but ever insistent automated telephone operator. The information is, to Amtrak’s credit, accurate to within one minute. It’s just unfortunate that the trains don’t have the same relationship with their timetables: these guys make Northern Ireland Railways look like the TGV. This week, the Adirondack has arrived late in New York City by this much:

  • 16/8: 2hr 37m *
  • 17/8: 1hr 41m *
  • 18/8: 2hr 11m *
  • 19/8: 1hr 16m
  • 20/8: 47m
  • 21/8: 1hr 39m *
  • 22/8: 2hr 29m *
  • 23/8: 1hr 29m *
  • 24/8: 1hr 35m *

A star indicates that I would have not made my Washington connection. It’s a good thing I enjoy taking the train. I have warned my hosts in Washington DC that I will probably see them for breakfast on Sunday morning. Probably.

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