Unlike in many other countries, train service in the USA is mostly crap. Partly because people here just loooooove their cars, but mostly because this country is just so big and connecting everything isn't really practical. Sure there are pockets of decent train service... the Northeast Corridor is pretty well-connected and has decent schedules. And, yeah, there are places that have pretty good local/regional train service (like the Chicagoland area). But, for the most part, trains can't be taken seriously.
Take for instance here in my neck of Redneckistan.
To get from Wenatchee to Spokane, there's exactly one train each day. At 8:42pm, arriving 12:45am. Coming back? Again, one train which leaves Spokane at 2:15am, getting back to Wenatchee at 5:25am.
So... pretty useless. Which is why I always end up driving it, high gas prices be damned.
But every once in a while... when the stars align and the conditions are right... that wacky schedule actually works for me.
I have been swamped with work. I haven't gotten a good night's sleep in a week. I can't afford to waste six hour on the road to Spokane and back. If I take the train, I can get a sleeper compartment, work until I fall asleep, then wake up in Spokane with time for a few hours more sleep. Perfect. And it's safer than being on the road in my sleep-deprived condition.
Which, of course means that my train is delayed by FIVE HOURS. Thanks, Amtrak!
Which means I'm driving over anyway.
So bring on the Five-Hour-Energy drinks and Coca-Cola, which was the only way I was able to survive the 3-hour drive over.
Which brings us to my hotel, which I originally booked thusly...
DAVE: I need to book a room for the 14th even though I won't be arriving until early on the 15th. So please don't think I'm a no-show and give away my room!
RESERVATIONS: We wouldn't do that!
DAVE: That's nice. You'd be surprised how often that happens to me. It's no fun looking for a hotel in the early morning. So... assuming I don't get raped and stabbed on the walk from the train station, I'll see you tomorrow at 1:00am.
RESERVATIONS: Oh goodness! You won't get raped or stabbed walking from the train station! You should be fine! You might get robbed or something, but you won't be raped and stabbed!
DAVE: Ah. Good to know. See you tomorrow.
But then I ended up driving, so no walking from the train station after all.
Except the parking lot was full at my hotel, so I had to risk getting robbed walking two blocks from the overflow parking.
And then risk getting harassed and shoved around as I made my way through Hipster Central on my way to the legendary Spokane institution... the Satellite Lounge. Which serves up deliciously greasy fare at a good price in a strip club atmosphere. But, alas, without the strippers.
Which is a pity, because I really could have done with something nice to look at after staring at the nothingness that is the Columbia Basin at night for three hours.
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The parts of Amtrak I’ve ridden puts Canada’s VIA Rail to shame, though in both cases Amtrak and VIA Rail have mandates that vary by the region. As you say, Amtrak California, the Northeast Corridor and the Chicago Area see enough investment to make the train a credible transportation alternative. Here in Canada, only the Quebec-Windsor corridor (including Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal) offer anything similar. Outside of these zones, train service is either the bare minimum possible, or a land cruiseship catering to tourists rather than business travellers. I’d love to take the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, but I can’t see many people using it to make appointments in Seattle or Spokane.
But here, even in the Quebec-Windsor corridor, we’re seeing budget cuts, and a number of runs have been eliminated, making things less convenient. In its business travel-focused areas, Amtrak’s on-time performance and speed puts VIA Rail to shame.