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Amtrak is not suited for scheduled transportation

I took an Amtrak train from Los Angeles to Central Oregon in the early part of March, 2007. The 24-hour trip took more than 28 hours, and while I've no serious complaints about the experience, I came off the line thinking "this is not a viable mode of transportation."

My brother, waiting for me in Chemult, hadn't even a newspaper to read -- and he was appropriately disgusted that such a town exists. Fortunately, he had had enough information about the train's progress that he only had to wait for an hour-and-a-half. But if "only an hour-and-a-half" (in the middle of podunk Oregon) is the good news, there's a serious malfunction in the system. Rather, there is, really, a lack of function in the Amtrak system.

There were several reasons for the delay of #14 Coast Starlight on 5-6 March:


By far the most common, this delay involved waiting on a spur while Union Pacific excercised its right-of-way* to pass freight. There is — yes — only one track up the length of the Pacific coast, Mexico to Canada.

Bad track

We had to slow down on several occasions, once, most notably — to a near-crawl — for at least 45 minutes. The roadbed was unsafe at higher speed.

Switch malfunction

In Southern Oregon, already three hours late, the train had to stop because of a malfunction in a mechanism on the track. This delayed us a further half-hour, until somebody drove out in a pickup truck and fixed us back on our way.

Union protection

Union rules* halted the train south of Klamath falls because there were staff members who'd been working for 12 hours straight, and that's the limit.

One of the ladies I spoke with on a lunchtime through Santa Barbara told me that the "Coast Starlight" route has been called the "Coast Star-late."

The line seems to be chronically late, and unreliable.

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The general Amtrak system appears to be as bad. It mostly lacks practical function.


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*The conductor -- working too hard for a man of his dignity -- told me that the freight company Union Pacific had bought rights to the track between San Luis Obispo California and the Oregon-Washington border in [some year that I can't remember,] and that since then he has not seen the Coast Starlight run on time.

I am not sure if the account is accurate, concerning the business arrangement. There may have been an agreement between Union Pacific and Amtrak, more involved than an outright purchase and assumption of priority. There may be a breach of this agreement by Union Pacific. I'm not sure.

I've read a few bits online, as anybody would. I'm not sure what I believe.

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In my opinion, the union is not doing nearly enough to protect the workers on the Coast Starlight, and I didn't mind stopping for 30 minutes an hour from home, after nearly seven years away. The workers oughta get their due. If that means a train has to stop, then that's just the way it's got to be.

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  • Return to "union protection"...