Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Seattle: The Endless Journey

I'm back from my vacation. My wife and I had a wonderful time in Seattle and Spokane. We got back last night, and are now recovering from our nearly two-day long train ride. For those of you who haven't traveled via train, it really is a relaxing and enjoyable way to travel. You get to see the country in a way that doesn't happen with air travel, it's far more comfortable than a bus, and the food in the dining car is really very good. The main downsides are 1) you will have to sit with strangers in the dining car unless you happen to be traveling with at least three other people and 2) you'd better not plan on a tight schedule, as the train can and will be delayed from its intended schedule.

This problem with delays was especially notable during our trip north. We had made it as far as Sacramento without incident, but arrived to learn that the train that would take us further north was already four hours late at the time we arrived in the station to await our transfer. Having arrived at 11:00 pm, we had to sleep on hard wooden benches until our train finally arrived at 3:00 am, at which point we were finally able to board.

The delays didn't stop there. It finally became so bad that I decided to write down a list of all the different ways the train ended up being delayed. I should emphasize that each entry on this list represents a distinct incident of delay for a new reason. Some reasons caused the train to be delayed multiple times in themselves, but I did not make a point of that in my list. Nor do I count any scheduled stops. Here's the list:
Ways the Northbound train was delayed:
  • Engine Maintenence - check
  • Congestion: More than two trains attempting to use same track - check
  • Track Maintenence - check
  • Transfer of staff to meet federal labor laws - check
  • Medical emergency - check (we also ejected a passenger for foul language during this incident, which would have caused a seperate delay, but since it happened at the same time as the medical emergency, does not warrant a seperate list item)
  • Track sabotage - check (apparently someone tampered with the track switching mechanism)
  • Making way for oncoming sister train to pass - check
  • Bigfoot - ... Well, this didn't actually happen to the best of our knowledge, but that's probably only because the train staff figured that passengers interested in the photo opportunity would only have delayed us even further, and so they didn't tell us....
The train was originally intended to arrive at 8:30 pm on Tuesday. We finally pulled into the Seattle station at 3:23 am on Wednesday. Thankfully, I had my cell phone with me, and had already arranged with the rental car agency and our hotel reservation to account for our later-than-expected arrival.

And just to be complete: our return trip back south, while not nearly as heavily delayed, did give occasion to add one more possible cause of delay to the list: fixing non-functional plumbing and toiletry on the passenger cars. Thankfully, this one was indeed fixed before we got too far....

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