Took Amtrak early April 2006 from Seattle to Bakersfield, CA. Looking to save a few bucks (about $500 under airfare for 4) and since we had 12 days for vacation we figured, romantically, that the train would be great for the kids to see sights along the way. It was only 27 hours on the train from Seattle, leaving at 10am and arriving the next day in Bakersfield @ approx. 1:30pm and even if a little late we could still pick up the rental car (to be delivered to the train station upon arrival) and we could be happily on our way to the Palm Springs by 6pm or 7pm for 9 days of fun in the sun. Couldn't be better right? DEAD WRONG!!
Okay, let's start with departure. We pull up to the station and are dropped off luggage and all, trust me still very excited and go straight to the ticketing area,check in and proceed to the baggage check area. "Wait a minute, what's that they are saying over the intercom?" Oh our train was so late coming in last night that they stopped it in Portland and we were all going to be transferred by bus to the Portland station, no big deal, I should have saw the signs then though. Check our bags, I have my golf clubs in a bulletproof hardcase, they mean alot to me and are my main activity when I get to the desert, I'm charged $5 for "special" luggage which I knew about beforehand, no big deal. We hop on the bus, very nice bus and the wife and kids are happy so good enough for me, on to Portland.
Portlands station is very nice. We go on in and after having been told by the bus driver that we would be loading on the train in 15 minutes we queue right up, only to find out 30 minutes later that the train wasn't ready for us and would be another 1/2 hour and then another hour. So we waited 2 hours for a train that was sitting right there in front of us! That sucked but once on the train the excitement started kicking back in again, it was now almost 4pm, I could have drove and passed Portland at 12:30 and would now be halfway through the state.
So here is where it goes from bad to worse.
The cars on the train are tattered, dirty, disgusting and I am pretty chill about that stuff usually but this is the place where my kids will spend the next 20 hours (yeah right) just don't lick the seats or eat anything off the ground and we'll be fine. We are going to connect in Sacramento at 6am, catch a bus to Stockton and be back on the tracks @9am, So making the best of it, we eat and drink and try to enjoy our time together. There are 2 ways to get food on the train, snack bar and dining room. Don't get any romantic notions about the snack bar, moving along the tracks grabbing a bite to eat, enjoying your fellow passengers company. It's located on the lower level of a car more like a dirty dungeon and the food leaves quite a bit to be desired though I pride myself on being able to eat just about anything I just did it and enjoyed having a full stomach (some kind of sub sandwich). My kids made the most of the food we brought with us.
Okay it's getting late, the wife and i have a couple cocktails watch a movie on our DVD player (oh yeah, the "onboard theater" consisted of two 25" tvs in the viewing car so by the time I got there the 10 people watching it were already crowded enough). Kids fell asleep I did my best but kept on waking up every 2 hours, the shaking I guess was a little too much for me, to be expected. I know the train stopped a few times in the middle of the night to make way for freight trains who these days have the right of way (something about amtrak not owning the tracks anymore).
Okay! I wake up at just before 6am and look out the window, not the pretty views on the travel guide but peoples nasty backyards and trash from all the heavy equipment companys that i guess prefer to reside right next to the tracks (the lands got to be cheap next to the tracks) thinking OK we are almost in Stockton! I see a train station coming up and start waking my family up, also waking waking up other people on the train, oh well I'm ready to get off this train and get that much closer to vacation. Train slows down and announces we are in ?, CA. What?!?! we are 3 hours late but they are going to take us all the way into Martinez, ca where there is a train waiting to take us to our destination, and we should be able to make up time, We'll be there at 11:30am, that's still 300 miles from our destination, oh well we'll still be able to get the rental car by 6pm, when they close because the announcement says the train is waiting for us. This time we are on time getting to Martinez, get off the train and look about, THERE IS NO TRAIN WITHIN SIGHT! Now I know that we have been suckered by Amtrak again, right when the train takes off on it's way to L.A. pissing of as many people as possible along the way. My wife sees the luggage guy pulling everybodys luggage to hold for the next train and notices my my golf bag case is not present, she asks the guy where it is and he says he doesn't know but he is sure there is a good explanation and don't worry it probably went ahead of our train. What? How? why would my golf clubs be getting such on time service and we were getting screwed. Didn't know it then, but I do now they had no idea where my clubs were.
Anyways our "train waiting for us" after I went in the station and looked at the schedule, was a commuter train from Oakland to Bakersfield and wasn't due to arrive for 2 hours! unbelievable! We made the most of it and walked into town and got some decent chinese food.
The commuter train came on time, stopped only at the staions and only once had to make way for freight trains. Although the view was still pitiful, these trains were much cleaner and seemed more efficient getting us to Bakersfield "on time" 6 hours late.
Having already contacted Hertz and found out that one that was supposed to deliver my car closes at 6pm, they handled and moved my pickup site out to the airport 10 miles away and about $30 by cab which they said they would reimburse me there.
Let's get moving! wheres our bags? we can still make it to Palm Springs by midnight! Oh there are the bags! Wait where are my clubs? That's right missing and the one guy running the station had no idea where they were. He started calling all the stations possible (very helpful that guy, must be the crappiest job in the world putting up with pissed off people running 6 hours late everday) anyway he can't find them. after an hour I leave the wife and 1 kid and catch a cab to the airport, get reimbursed as promised, pick up the car and get back to the station. Still no clubs, I have a tee time at 8:15 the next morning and also 1 at 2:30pm both already paid for non-refundable.
Station agent promises to keep on looking but we have got to go, still have 4 1/2 hours of driving to do and it's 10:30 pm, he promises to call when they are found.
Um, we pull into our hotel @ 3:30 am, I have a 7:30 wake up call, tomorrow is not going to pretty, and my buddy meeting me at the golf course is counting on me so I will just have to tough it out. I rent clubs twice at the 2 golf courses ($80, not cheap)but figure since Amtrak said they would foot the bill I go ahead with it. A note on that; they made it sound like I just send them the receipts and done deal. No, I called customer service after I got back and the operater said she didn't know if that would be covered but to send my stuff to Washington D.C. and see what happens, still haven't heard back.
I got a call saying my clubs had somehow ended up in Santa Barbara and they were going to arrive on a tour bus at 2pm at the Palm springs airport, that wasn't going to work for me because i was golfing at the time and I inquired if there was a safe place to store them till 8pm or so, they said no but would see what they could do, once again didn't hear back. So at 2pm I called and asked what the status was on my clubs, they said everything was fine the train that was attached to the tour bus was running 6hours late so I could meet @ 8pm, no problem. After golf I go back to the hotel and get ready to drive to the airport (20 miles) on a whim I call amtrak to make sure everything is cool they say there were further delays and my clubs won't be there until 11pm, wow! they give me the number of the bus driver, I call and he confirms. I get my clubs @11pm like promised, feeling bad for the people that were on that train arriving 9 hours late.
Needless to say this was not even close to an enjoyable experience, although the station agent did his very best, Hertz was amazing and it was cool of the bus driver to contact me personally.
At the end of our 9 days we decided "screw Amtrak" we are not going through that hell again and seeing as i had to be at work at 9am Sunday morning (we were supposed to arrive at 8:30pm Saturday night, we checked that trains status on the 1-800# on the way home, last we checked 7 hours late, that's 3:30 am, poor friggin people!)
Called amtrak they said when we get home to take tickets to the station to be reimbursed(haven't seen that money yet either).
Called Hertz told them our situation and were worried about the "1 way drop off" fees, they said no problem they would just charge us for 2 extra days rental and in doing so have created a loyal customer for life (up until then just rented from whoever gave me the best deal). Drove home although it is a long way and I do all the driving, we were all truly relieved to not have to stress about when the train was going to get us there. I don't think I have ever enjoyed that drive more. probably the 15th time I have made it.
All in all DON'T TAKE AMTRAK, EVER! theres a reason theyare getting federal help and still can't turn a profit. they suck and somebody needs to fix it and from my experience, cannot figure out if there is such a person, company or agency with the resources or the time such a sad state of affairs.
The people that worked for them are just normal people who deserve so much better, but when you run the most skeleton of crews theses poor people are worked into the ground.