Thursday, February 22, 2007

Charlie does Amtrak and lives to tell about it

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

All I wanted to do was to go from Boston to Chicago via Amtrak, a trip that usually takes 22 hours from Boston. However this odyssey took close to 40 hours as I was routed through Washington and then West Virginia and Kentucky. I left South Station at 9:45 Tuesday evening and arrived in Chicago at Noontime today. I didn't know about the West Virginia routing until they changed my train yesterday morning in DC.
I did learn one thing. If you want to be in an area with no cellphone service West Virginia is the place to go to as I couldn't even get a roaming signal with my carrier and I have in the past gotten service in Eastern Montana.

The absolute clincher came early this morning when the locomotive ran out of fuel outside of Indianapolis. That made passengers forget the fact that the coaches had no heat during the middle of the night.

I'll be updating the mailbag later but also I want to share my experience in riding the Washington Metro Wednesday morning.


The Washington Metro opened in 1976 and is now the second busiest subway in the US after New York with about 700,000 trips taken on a typical weekday. It is for the most part a pleasure to take. Each station has signs that tell you not only when the next train is coming but how many cars so you know where to stand for your train. Washington has had this service now for about 5 years but as we have discussed before the T has decided against doing it in Boston ( even though they now have the equipment to do so)

One thing I noticed is how clean passengers leave the trains. Washington has two subway papers and nobody simply discards it on the train like Boston. Washington still has human announcements calling out the train stops and they were clear and concise. My only gripe about the Metro was the fare vending machines are not very passenger friendly.

The Washington FVM's seem to come in different versions. Some simply spit out a fare ticket similar to the CharlieTicket, others allow you to use their SmarTrip card which is similar to CharlieCard. Some but not all machines take credit cards. The machine I used had a $20.00 fareticket purchase as default and you have to toggle it down to the amount you want, there is no keyboard option like the T. Still overall I found them easier to use than the T's ticket machines. One thing of note the Washington SmarTrip card does not offer discount fares, and it cost $5.00 to purchase one. However those that park at a Metro station have no choice but to buy the SmarTrip card as it is the only way one can pay for parking.

8 comments:

Ron Newman said...

Washington Metro does not allow any eating or drinking on their trains, or even in their stations. Even young kids have been harassed and arrested for violating this rule. It's pretty draconian and would never be accepted here, but it probably explains why their trains are so clean.

Ian W. said...

Amtrak sent you to DC on a trip to Chicago? That's terrible. Why couldn't you just take the Lakeshore Limited?

Charlie said...

Ian W. said...
Amtrak sent you to DC on a trip to Chicago? That's terrible. Why couldn't you just take the Lakeshore Limited?
They were not sure the Albany-Boston leg would operate.....I was supposed to then be routed through Pittsburgh but when I got to DC they informed me of the change. Meanwhile my bags are somewhere but NOT in Chicago....

Charlie said...

Ron Newman said...
Washington Metro does not allow any eating or drinking on their trains, or even in their stations. Even young kids have been harassed and arrested for violating this rule. It's pretty draconian and would never be accepted here, but it probably explains why their trains are so clean.
I'll say this much about their rules, it works. You don't see a discarded fare card ANYWHERE or any other trash for that matter.

Anonymous said...

So, instead of taking the Lakeshore, he was originally routed on the Capitol Limited from DC to Chicago via Pittsburgh, but they put him on the Cardinal via Indy, instead. Today's Lakeshore arrival in Chicago was "only" five hours late, while today's Cardinal arrival was "only" one hour forty minutes late. Tuesday's Boston Lakeshore departure actually departed on time and arrived in Albany early!

Ron Newman said...

You won't see discarded fare cards in the Washington Metro because (a) you need to exit with the same card you used to enter, and (b) the exit gate eats any card whose value is zero.

Redliner said...

Having lived in DC for six years and Metro'd to work almost every day, I can vouch for the fact that the cleanliness of the Metro is not just a result of its policies. The Metro was designed by engineers whose previous career was in the military. The rules that keep the system clean (and sterile - no advertisements inside the cars or, god forbid, musicians!) reflect the military planning. However, the individual acts that keep it clean reflect the culture and expectations of the riders. I have seen on countless occasions passengers lecturing other passengers about eating, drinking, and leaving behind news papers. I was even shamed once by a fellow passenger that walked half way down a car to hand me a piece of news paper that I had left on my seat. People call Metro police on other passengers who "misbehave." The Metro is definitely clean, and there are some benefits to a system that will fine you $300 for eating french fries on the platform (true story), but I think one thing is for certain - the average T rider doesn't share the same philosophy as the average Metro rider so we're not going to have that kind of environment on the T.

Anonymous said...

DC's subway culture is different than Boston’s and we're not going to be getting that kind of cleanliness anytime soon. However, one thing the Metro has that the T doesn't that keeps the stations clean and safe is Station Managers. These aren't poorly paid baby sitters like the CSAs who change from day to day. They are higher-up employees who take ownership over their stations and are present every day. They not only make sure that the stations get the proper routine maintenance, they also roam the station like its their own office and make sure that the riders behave. If the T would recruit the "best of the best" of the CSAs to behave like Station Managers and actually interact with the passengers, things would be better.