Your Stories: Passengers Speak Out Against Delays Afflicting the National Network

By now, nearly everyone has heard about the delays plaguing Amtrak’s trains as they move people across the U.S. Things have gotten so bad that the on-time performance of Amtrak’s long distance services is down 21% when compared to the same period last year. Some trains are even worse, with the Capitol Limited (Washington-Chicago) arriving on time only 3.2% of the time in August!

But sometimes it’s hard to put a human cost to those numbers. That’s why NARP has launched a campaign to tell the stories of the people who are being hurt by these delays. America’s leaders need to hear about why Amtrak is important to the public, and what’s at stake. The long distance trains are the only form of service on 70% of Amtrak’s system, and connect 40% of America’s rural population to the national rail system. We must convince policy makers to enact a solution.

NARP asked for these stories—and you delivered! Below is just a sample of the many incidents of frustration, discomfort, and “never again!” moments being experienced on trains across America.

But we need more of your stories! As we reported last week, the Surface Transportation Board is saying they haven’t been contacted about delays. NARP needs your stories as ammunition in our fight to elicit an official response. So go online to submit your story, or email it directly to sjeansgail@narprail.org (subject line: “Amtrak Delays”). With your help, we can get America’s trains moving again!

Your Stories: Passengers Speak Out Against Delays Afflicting the National Network

Walter Dunn - North Port, Florida—“I had to travel from Florida to New York [when] my mother (who is 91 years old) was taken to the hospital in critical condition. I don't like to fly anymore. Several times we sat on a siding waiting for a freight train, who's schedule I am sure is not critical, to go by. When we starting getting later and later into stations the general comment amongst passengers was "[that Amtrak’s] never on time." I think this is disgrace to our country. The trains in some third world countries keep a better schedule than those in this country.”

Stephen Haspel - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—“I missed a meeting in Chicago because the northbound City of New Orleans was four hours late. Had it been one or even two hours late I probably would not have missed it.”

Thomas Horak - Downers Grove, Illinois—“The delaying of Amtrak Trains whether by maintenance or host railroad issues hurts passengers who have planned meetings at their destination.

“A typical and occasional 1 hour delay is not really an issue, given the nature of weather and traffic constraints. However, when Amtrak trains are constantly being sidetracked so slower-moving freight trains can have priority, consumers loose. I have missed important meetings and activities due to late train issues.

“I rely on Amtrak to get me to my destination safely and on time, because I have a reoccurring health issue when flying and do not feel comfortable taking a bus. By not providing a reliable intercity rail service, the US Government is not giving those passengers with health conditions or who prefer not to fly an acceptable alternative.

“We elected our officials to do their fiduciary duty to care for the needs of all Americans... not just those who fly or manage Class 1 host railroads.”

Kathleen Newell - Detroit, Michigan—“I attempted to go from Minneapolis to Ann Arbor MI in one day like I have done for years in the past. It is no longer possible because of trains in North Dakota that delay the Empire Builder from Seattle, WA. This delay causes a missed Chicago, IL to Ann Arbor, MI connection. In addition I have to stay overnight in Chicago, pay for a hotel and shorten my stay in Michigan as a result. Running a train through South Dakota or offering a bus connection as was once offered by Amtrak if a connection was missed is no longer an option.”

Ronald Inskeep (an avid and regular train traveler) - Gwynedd, Pennsylvania--“I just returned form an Amtrak trip to Chicago from Philadelphia. On the way out, we were delayed three hours due to freight trains. On the way back yesterday, we were eight and a half hours late getting to Pittsburgh. From there we were bused to Harrisburg, where we took an Amtrak train the rest of the way to Philadelphia. At one point an announcement was made saying that there were five freight trains ahead of us, stretching out for 30 miles. The announcer made frequent announcements, apologizing for the numerous stops due to freight trains, and said that he has been with Amtrak 28 years and has never seen it this bad.”

John Schilling - Gardnerville, Nevada--“I have reached the age (86) where I would feel safer to take a train rather then drive for more than 1 hour. The last time I took Amtrak to Denver from Reno the train was 7 or 8 hours late due to lack of equipment. The lack was caused by Midwest floods and because of that delay all the trains were dealing with 7-8 hours of delays from the schedule.”

Lillie Langlois - Lemont, Pennsylvania--“Hi guys, I'm the biggest train advocate I know. I've been car-free for 12+ years and prefer to live a European-like lifestyle by biking everywhere and using public transit, of which Amtrak is a big part. Last Christmas, I took the train from central PA, through Chicago, and across the snowy plains to St. Paul to spend some time with my brother. I'm a PhD candidate at Penn State University so I prefer to travel by train and work in the cafe car along the way.

“My trip there was amazing and beautiful, but my return trip was so late, Amtrak had to hire a bus to take us to Chicago. Instead of enjoying my ample leg-room space of the walkable train, I was squished in a bus seat and given a free donut to make up for the difference. I couldn't get any work done and didn't enjoy my 8-hour ride. I talked to the bus driver who said he was doing this trip for Amtrak multiple times per week for the past year. The Empire Builder has suffered stifling on-time performance for a long time due to the petroleum products being shipped by rail from the Bakken Formation in the Dakotas, plus high volumes of grain, etc. being shipped by freight.

“I can handle this inconvenience and still advocate on Amtrak's behalf, but the worst part is that I recommended my brother and his girlfriend to travel by train to NY for Christmas a few weeks after my trip. Luckily, their train was not late enough to be bumped to the bus but it was not a great experience due to the delays. Here's another quick story from my girlfriend who lives in Chicago and returns home to Rochester, NY by train frequently[, who wrote]: "Oh Lillie - I'm having a hard time right now getting on board (so to speak) with your love of Amtrak. 75% of the trips I've taken on this beast have been delayed. Including this one. I always come prepared with food, journal, book, but it makes me angry. If I was late 75% of the times I was supposed to go to work - I'd get replaced. How does this company still exist? Low prices probably. Is Amtrak the Walmart of transportation? Think about it."

“I still love Amtrak and will support it whenever possible and tell others to do the same. But it does get increasingly difficult when these things happen… Please, please help us keep this system afloat and operating at [its] best. Thank you.”

Elliott Adams - Sharno Springs, New York—“I left Utica, NY for a meeting in Detroit, MI the evening of 22 [of February]. The train schedule put me in Detroit early in the morning, I planned to get to the conference center, have breakfast do some work and have a few one-on-one meetings in preparation for the day. But my train was over 9 hours late. I missed all those very important one-on-one meetings and the daytime meetings, only arriving [just] in time for an evening meeting.

“[Later,] I was coming back home from a conference. (24-25 Aug, Detroit, MI to Utica, NY) As we traveled East our train kept getting later and later. As I could I kept calling my wife to tell her not to come to the station which a 1 hour from our home. By the time we arrived we were over 5hours late! A half dozen of the people I talked to were new to train travel and said they would never take a train again. Others said that while they generally are able to tolerate delays in train travel, they were now going to have to drive.”

Mr. & Mrs. Frank Brice - Hurley, New York—“My wife and I took Amtrak from our home near Rhinecliff, NY, to Seattle in August, 2014. We arrived in Chicago 4-1/4 hours late, having waited many times for freight rail traffic. Three days later we boarded the Empire Builder to East Glacier Park, MT, and were pleasantly surprised to arrive only 45 minutes late. Four days later we re-boarded the Empire Builder, but instead of the scheduled time of 8:15 PM, the train arrived at 2:50 AM! We lost a bit more time during travel to Seattle, ultimately arriving 7-1/2 hours late. Thus we lost a half-day in Chicago and nearly a full day in Seattle, but the late pick-up in East Glacier Park, at 2:50 AM, was simply awful. We did not get much sleep that night.

“The Amtrak personnel were wonderful throughout, particularly our sleeping-car attendants. Interestingly, one told the tale of having been only 10 minutes from a station (on a different train than ours) when the freight railroad put the Amtrak train on a siding and made it wait for a couple of hours to dispatch it again. This sort of treatment by the freight railroads is [s]imply unconscionable and unacceptable.”

Emmy Koponen - Santa Fe, New Mexico—“I love riding Amtrak and traveling. When meeting friends en route, it is crucial that the dates work. A late train can mean a no visit with a dear friend. [This is especially bad] on routes like the Southwest Chief with only one train a day... [T]rains in the U.S. need to function on time. Why not? Shipping move over and give us our time to continue to keep Amtrak on time.”

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