2013-09-20 – I’m writing from La Crosse, WI. I come here fairly frequently for work. I take the train up from Chicago and I take the train back. It is fairly efficient when the train is on time. Chicago’s Union Station (pictured) is one block from my office. The train, which is called the Empire Builder, originates in Chicago, heading to the west coast, so it is usually on time. The return train, if it is on time, arrives at Union Station at just the right time for me to walk three blocks and catch my normal commuter train home.
If it is on time.
Today it is estimated to be three hours late. I’m waiting.
This train is frequently late. The La Crosse-to-Chicago leg is the last part of its trip, so any delays crossing the country accumulate. They never make them up. I’ve been doing this trip a half-dozen times a year or more for the last four or five years. It seems to be getting worse and I’m getting tired of it.
Truthfully, there’s not much of an alternative. I tried driving early on. I fight falling asleep, so that’s not a good option. On the train I can sleep – sort of. Or I can read or write or do work. I can get a snack or go to the bathroom or look out the window or talk to people or listen to music. (Okay, I can listen to the music in the car, too.) Flying is not a great option. The airport in La Crosse is small so the flights are few and very expensive. And it would force me through airport security and all that hassle. So I take the train.
Short-distance rail is so good when it is running on time. But it is neglected. Delays come from track work and weather. And from traffic. Amtrak trains are required to give the right-of-way to every other type of train. Freight trains go first. Commuter trains go first. And the Amtrak train just sits.
Today I got an email about the delay, so I don’t need to go sit at the station. They said to call to find alternative travel. I called and found out that the alternative was a bus. I couldn’t see sitting in a bus for five hours, so I decided to ride the late train.