11.12.17

TO REALLY FOUL THINGS UP REQUIRES A COMPUTER.

At the macro level, it's Norfolk Southern's artificial intelligence dispatching that renders Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited Late For Sure.

At the micro level, it's Amtrak's new internet reservation front end, which, in the manner of all hyped business improvements, is a bodge.
I can’t explain exactly why, but I had a terrible time with the new “improved” Amtrak web site. Admittedly, there are six segments in all, but it took me forever to get it all done.

My return includes a Boston-to-Chicago segment and this gave me the chance to see if I could perhaps save a little money and avoid some inconvenience, too. For those who don’t know, the westbound Lake Shore Limited starts out with two sections: Train 49 originating in New York City’s Penn Station and Train 449 originating from Boston’s South Station. The two sections meet in Albany, New York and proceed to Chicago as one train from there.
This combining of trains is a survival from Penn Central days, well, actually New York Central, which, without telling anybody, started combining The New England States and The Twentieth Century Limited at Buffalo, in the summer of 1967.  And, thanks to contemporary rules governing the adding and cutting of passenger cars in trains, the sleepers of the two parts are at opposite ends of the train.
The Boston section consists of one Viewliner sleeping car, several coaches, and a lounge car serving snacks and drinks. Half of this car is configured with Business Class seating. The New York section has five or six coaches and what AmtraK calls a “Combined Diner/Lounge”. The trouble is—and, OK, I’ll admit it’s a minor issue unless you have trouble moving about a moving train—after leaving Albany, passengers in the Boston sleeper have to make their way through six or seven coaches in order to get their dinner in the Diner/Lounge car.
It's not so minor an issue when the Boston sleeper has a number of older and slower-moving passengers in it. On my trip, we got to cross the platform to the diner (a little cooperation between the sleeper attendant and the dining car crew) but we had to organize a team to get everybody back to the sleeper after dinner, which involved a walk from Schenectady to Utica.
So this time, instead of booking a roomette all the way in the Boston sleeper, I made two separate reservations: the first, a seat in Business Class from Boston to Albany; the second, a roomette in the New York section from Albany to Chicago.

True, in Albany I’ll have to gather up my belongings and relocate to the Viewliner sleeper, but I should have only one car between me and the diner. I saved $7.60 on the combined fares, too. Altogether, a small, but satisfying triumph, as long as I overlook the fact that it probably took me more than an hour on the new Amtrak web site to make it all happen.
Am I being churlish to suggest that the $7.60 represents the difference between the cup of tea offered to business class riders and the full lunch (OK, a sandwich) that the sleeper passengers get upon departing Framingham?

On the other hand, without the Century and its accompanying mystique, would we have a Lake Shore, or an Amtrak, at all?

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