Amtrak Has Stopped Printing All Schedules

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Amtrak Has Stopped Printing All Schedules
Posted by saguaro on Friday, April 06, 2018 12:22 AM

My wife and I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville last Friday-Sunday and learned in Chicago that Amtrak has stopped printing all schedules. I could not find a California Zephyr schedule or route guide at Union Station and was told by two Amtrak personnel that schedules are no longer being printed. I asked along the way in several stations and the news was confirmed. I did pick up a route guide at one station that still had a few. The explanation is that "everything is online."

However with no printed schedule the crews seemed to run as if there was no schedule, period. We were ahead of schedule for most of the trip and left Sacramento about 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time and arrived in Emeryville nearly one hour early.

It was a great ride. If you have never taken the Zephyr between Denver and California you should do it while you still can. The Rockies, the Wasatch Range and the Sierra Nevada Range all during daylight. Magnificent scenery.

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Posted by Deggesty on Friday, April 06, 2018 3:28 PM

Yes, Amtrak no longer prints even the scedules for individual trains that you would find on board the various trains. The rack in the Washington station still has slots named for various trains and services--but there is nothing in them (I saw this day before yesterday).

As to leaving Sacamento ahead of schedule, the California Zephyr does not board passengers there or anywhere west of there--so it may leave ahead of the time listed. This is the case wherever there is other, more local, service about the same time of day. (The EB Zephyr does not pick up at Galesburg or anywhere else east of there--it used to pick up at Naperville if passengers were going to take a connecting train in Chicago--the train from Quincy is coming along later, and it will board passengers). Thus, the conductor and engineer are not in trouble for leaving early.

I am a bit annoyed by various changes in the website; but if you know how to use it, you probaby can get such information as you need/wamt.

Johnny

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, April 06, 2018 8:04 PM

All the routes and schedules you could want.

https://www.amtrak.com/train-routes

         

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Posted by PJS1 on Friday, April 06, 2018 9:10 PM

saguaro

......and learned in Chicago that Amtrak has stopped printing all schedules. 

Sounds like a good business decision. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 85.1 percent of American households have a personal computer, and 77 percent of Americans have a smart phone.  So, a sizeable percentage of the population can download a schedule to theeir PC and/or Smart Phone.  If they don't have a PC and/or a smart phone, they can call Amtrak for the information.  

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

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Posted by PJS1 on Saturday, April 07, 2018 10:04 AM

saguaro
 My wife and I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville last Friday-Sunday and learned in Chicago that Amtrak has stopped printing all schedules. 

According to the Pew Research Center 77 percent of Americans have a Smart Phone and 85.1 percent of American households have a PC.  They can download any one or all of Amtrak’s schedules to their device.  For those that don’t have a Smart Phone or PC, they can go to their library to use a computer or they can call Amtrak.
 
It appears discontinuing the printed schedules is a good business decision.  How much Amtrak will save on printing and distribution costs is unknown, but for a business that had a net loss of $968.7 million in 2017 and required $1.9 billion in federal paid in capital for its capital project, every little bit is important.  

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

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Posted by runnerdude48 on Saturday, April 07, 2018 1:17 PM

I am one of the 23% of Americans who do not have a "smart phone".  I do have a PC so I just go to the Amtrak website where it is very easy to get the schedule for the train that I want and then print it off myself.  I can check the schedules and plan trips without the necessity of going to the station and trying to find one.  So much easier than it was "back in the day."  Not only that, the on line versions are much more up-to-date then the printed schedules that are revised only every six months.

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Posted by MrLynn on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 10:44 AM

I too was disappointed when I discovered last year that I couldn't get an up-to-date timetable at the station. The ticket agent at the Route 128 Amtrak station (Boston area, on the NEC) told me then that Amtrak was not printing them out, but gave me the last complete System Timetable as a keepsake.

Last week for our trip to Virginia and back, I downloaded the NEC-to-Virginia PDF schedule and printed it on my color laser printer. So that worked. But it really isn't fair to people without computers and/or smart phones. Believe it or not, there are many such people, especially older folks, and many would not imagine that timetables were not available at the station.

The new website is not intuitive, either. I am a very experienced computer user, and it took me a while to find the schedules.

What Amtrak should do is put custom-print Schedule Kiosks in each station. You use a touch screen to select the Route Schedule you want, tap it, and the machine will print it out for you instantly. Someone tell Amtrak!

/Mr Lynn

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 11:05 AM

MrLynn
What Amtrak should do is put custom-print Schedule Kiosks in each station. You use a touch screen to select the Route Schedule you want, tap it, and the machine will print it out for you instantly. Someone tell Amtrak!

Actually what I'd have Amtrak do is to make access to even old-generation, costed-down smart devices easy for 'normal' people -- put wireless connectivity, perhaps a Bluetooth chip and effective pairing algorithms, in the kiosks already in the stations for other purposes.  Then provide quick ability to customize schedule formats and then download the results to reasonably 'smart' devices, both as graphical and text representations.  And yes, put some additional code in the Amtrak app versions for connected devices...

You could then take your device into, say, any FedEx Kinko's and print off the information, formatted correctly for paper size and layout, either in B&W to save money or in color.  Or go home and use the laser printer or inkjet.  Why make Amtrak bear the cost of the ink, paper, and maintenance for on-demand printing when it's evident every stray expense deemed nonessential might count?

As a fringe benefit, you could easily generate an 'active' version of the timetable populated with actual anticipated arrival times as well as 'scheduled' (or as-delayed), and easily integrate both a moving-map depiction of the route relative to stations and the input from the 'train tracker' system.  That would actually give you something meaningful to use when assessing how long you have to get to the station ... or let Amtrak know if you want to board a train that might be 'running early' at the station you were planning to use.

(And THEN we can start working with the codebase to order food delivery via something like UberEats so it's just right when the train pulls in...)

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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 11:34 AM

Amtrak no longer printing schedules isn't that surprising. I work for our state's Revenue department, we stopped creating printed tax returns several years ago. Something like 85-90% of people file electronically now, and those who really want to file their own paper return can go to our website and print out the forms.

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Posted by MrLynn on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 11:53 AM

Overmod

Actually what I'd have Amtrak do is to make access to even old-generation, costed-down smart devices easy for 'normal' people -- put wireless connectivity, perhaps a Bluetooth chip and effective pairing algorithms, in the kiosks already in the stations for other purposes.  Then provide quick ability to customize schedule formats and then download the results to reasonably 'smart' devices, both as graphical and text representations.

And yes, put some additional code in the Amtrak app versions for connected devices... You could then take your device into, say, any FedEx Kinko's and print off the information, formatted correctly for paper size and layout, either in B&W to save money or in color.  Or go home and use the laser printer or inkjet.  Why make Amtrak bear the cost of the ink, paper, and maintenance for on-demand printing when it's evident every stray expense deemed nonessential might count?

'Costed-down smart devices'? 'Bluetooth'? 'Pairing algorithms'?  Bluetooth is an erratic technology at best.  For elderly people with no computer experience, who don't own a cell (much less 'smart') phone it would be endlessly frustrating.  There are plenty of such people, and you want to encourage them to take the train.

For that matter, there are plenty of younger people who struggle with all these electronic gizmos (like my wife with her iPad—"why do I see only half the book I ordered?"). 

Paper and ink printed at Schedule Kiosks would be a trivial expense.  In point of fact, Amtrak's zeal at cost-cutting passenger services has the effect of turning travelers off, ultimately cutting into revenue—i.e. it's self-defeating.

/Mr Lynn

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Posted by conrailman on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 12:04 PM

Amtrak needs not to so darn Cheap. and since Amtrak got the biggest amount 1.9 Billion Dollars. That biggest amount in 20 plus years. Amtrak don't be so cheap.My 2 Cents

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 12:05 PM

MrLynn
Paper and ink printed at Schedule Kiosks would be a trivial expense.

Please substantiate this with reference to actual technology and maintenance costs.  My guess is that you have not done so, and have no actual numbers or device families to cite.

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Posted by runnerdude48 on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 12:10 PM

Mr. Lynn, I like the idea of the kiosks.  They would break down periodically  but so do the Quick Track ticket machines but they get fixed (eventually) as would the schedule kiosks.  But the whole thing is like Amtrak maintaining its outdated 1950s business plan.  There are some people without computers but there is always someone to rely on to get them through.  A child, grandchild, nephew, niece, librarian, neighbor etc.  Amtrak shouldn't be catering to those who can't keep up with technology.  The world will pass them by, which is already happening.  I don't have a smart phone but I manage.  Although I doubt that they printed the timetables themselves, Amtrak does save the contract costs of the print job.  The current system works fine for the vast majority of people so that should be what stays.  No need to go backwards. 

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 4:57 PM

I am glad that my wife lured me into going on line by saying she would give me a new computer (I had been using her castoffs) if I went on line. Generally, I am able to get what I want, though I still ask one daughter for help on this or that.

Before a trip, I compose a schedule (and now, I have to work from the online information), and take it with me. 

But, for people who have not gained access to the internet, it is an extremely difficult situation when it comes to planning a trip.

I trust that Amtrak will determine the saving--and publsih the result.

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Posted by MrLynn on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 10:35 PM

Overmod

 

 
MrLynn
Paper and ink printed at Schedule Kiosks would be a trivial expense.

No, I have not done so.  It's just a guess, but I think the kiosk route would be much cheaper than bulk printing (with frequent updates) of multiple schedules and distributing them to every station.  Individual laser printing would be more expensive per document, but the quantity would be much, much smaller.  Wouldn't hurt to do an analysis, though.

/Mr Lynn

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, April 12, 2018 8:56 AM

 I think you're probably correct about the higher cost of bulk printing and distribution. 

The chief concern I have with the kiosks is that the equipment to produce a reasonable-quality printed schedule is not trivial, and will not easily go either in the existing ticketing kiosks or in a module accessible from them that will stand up to the likely 'attention' at unattended stations and times.

An issue with laser printing is the bulk of the required engine, as there are at least four toner cartridges involved and most designs have the cartridge width spanning the printable width.  While there is equipment that will reliably make and crease trifolds, it must be carefully located relative to the exit of the laser engine, and the output must be carefully guided out of the kiosk without jamming (which implies folding at right angles to paper exit from the laser engine).  This is an awful lot of capital for a few paper schedules, but I don't think a more OTS solution (like a good commercial laser printer in a hardened enclosure with an accessible paper drawer) is likely to satisfy the "demand" long-term for unattended stations.

What I'm tempted to suggest is that in many cases 'print-on-demand' at the actual station is not the right answer, and in fact really wasn't the question most potential passengers would really be asking -- they would want the printed schedule when planning their trip, not when at the station looking for a train.  And for that, a couple of fairly simple print-on-demand 'workstations' at L'Enfant Plaza with access to government franking privileges might be a reasonable answer.

The question then becomes how you make it easy for a non-computer-literate 'senior citizen' to request a copy of particular printed material easily -- and we spent hours and hours discussing ways to do this on the ISTF.  One comparatively simple way is to add a few modules to Julie so that she can "converse" in a way that gets quickly to the right information and then the right mailing address for what may be wildly different 'user preferences', and store the 'transaction' information to be user-friendly ASAP if there is any subsequent problem.  This is complicated back-end stuff, but it only has to be done once, and run from a minimum number of relatively secure (and maintainable) locations.

And yes, the 'mailable' result could just as easily be FedExed with a credit-card number or Amtrak account, or e-mailed as any desired format, or provided as an app coordinated with tracker, etc. etc. etc. ... 

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Posted by oltmannd on Thursday, April 12, 2018 9:44 AM

Why not partner with a third party?  You want printed timetables?  You pay for Staples or Office Depot to print and pick up or mail.  ..for a smallish fee.

Could easily be part of Amtrak's website.

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, April 12, 2018 9:53 AM

Why not make them printable at the local Library or Post Office as part of Government Services? 

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, April 12, 2018 9:58 AM

Both the idea of 'government services' print-on-demand and outsourcing to Staples/Kinkos are reasonable.  The only major difficulty (aside from getting older clients to pay what may be upward of $2.50 per schedule page for the privilege) is going to be promoting the service in such a way as to get acceptable 'take rate'.  First you need to make Amtrak customers specifically aware of ways to get printed schedules 'locally', then make it easy for them to place their order or find the appropriate facility and ask the right questions to get what they need.  I am not sure that you'll get people to run errands to the library and then pay the duplication fee, when the 'alternative' is to get the thing made up and sent by mail straight to them effectively free.  Which is really part of the point Mr. Lynn was making about preprinted schedules handed out or available in racks at stations.

I am TEMPTED to make x number of free schedules or an 'update service' available as a perquisite of the Amtrak rewards program, which essentially ensures that a customer getting a free printed schedule has already paid to ride Amtrak at least once... -

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Posted by zugmann on Thursday, April 12, 2018 10:02 AM

oltmannd
Why not partner with a third party? You want printed timetables? You pay for Staples or Office Depot to print and pick up or mail. ..for a smallish fee. Could easily be part of Amtrak's website.

Sounds reasonable.  If people have the time and disposable income to travel amtrak (a luxury most of us don't have), then paying a few bucks for a physical TT shouldn't be that much of an issue.

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by MrLynn on Thursday, April 12, 2018 4:02 PM

Overmod, I appreciate your detailed response to my kiosk suggestion.  You make good points.  Re folding, I don't think it's necessary; I printed out Amtrak's PDF from the website (once I found it) for our Virginia trip last week on the NEC on my HP color laser, and just stapled the upper-left corner of the four pages, then folded it to display the columns I wanted.  A stapler could be attached to the kiosk.  It could also be just b&w, which wouldn't look as good, but would be cheaper to maintain.

I rather doubt most non-computer travelers are going to think to 'ask Julie' about timetables, nor want to make special trips to Staples or somewhere to get them—unless they are train buffs (like me).  I do think that mailed timetables would be a nice perk for Amtrak Guest Rewards customers (which I am—free train rides!); maybe even a complete System Timetable with periodic updates.

Here's another idea: Every Amtrak passenger faces a seat pocket with a magazine in it.  I never look at the darned thing, but how about binding in the timetable for the route the magazine is on?  This would be pretty easy to do, and probably the ads in the magazines would pay for them.  Might actually get people like me to read them!

What is the ISTF?

/Mr Lynn

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, April 12, 2018 9:53 PM

MrLynn
What is the ISTF?

Internet Social Task Force.  It's the counterpart to the Internet Engineering Task Force that maintains the technical standards.

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, April 12, 2018 11:31 PM

  "A stapler could be attached to the kiosk."

Yes and I want the full time Government job of Amtrak Kiosk Stapler Re-Fill, Sanitizer, and Jam Fixer with full benefits and pension. 

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, April 13, 2018 2:08 AM

Miningman
Yes and I want the full time Government job of Amtrak Kiosk Stapler Re-Fill, Sanitizer, and Jam Fixer with full benefits and pension.

Jam fixer would fall under MOW.  Re-fill would fall under clerks.  Sanitizer would be custodial.

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by MrLynn on Friday, April 13, 2018 7:06 AM

zugmann

 

 
Miningman
Yes and I want the full time Government job of Amtrak Kiosk Stapler Re-Fill, Sanitizer, and Jam Fixer with full benefits and pension.

 

Jam fixer would fall under MOW.  Re-fill would fall under clerks.  Sanitizer would be custodial.

 

OK, so it was a dumb idea.  Passengers will be advised to bring their own staplers. Wink

How about binding the TTs into the complimentary magazines?

/Mr Lynn

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Posted by runnerdude48 on Friday, April 13, 2018 9:28 AM

Overmod referred to "government services".  Now there is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

You guys are making this way too complicated.  If you don't know how to operate your computer and get the information for your trip online then just ask someone for help.  Why make it more complicated than that?

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, April 13, 2018 9:57 AM

runnerdude48

Overmod referred to "government services".  Now there is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

Does that include such services as police & fire protection, public education, etc.??

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Overmod on Friday, April 13, 2018 10:01 AM

runnerdude48
Overmod referred to "government services". Now there is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

He was referring to the department at a public library that provides government information and documents -- tax forms, for instance.  There is no oxymoron whatsoever in what the library provides.  Be more careful to understand the context before using cliches for comments.

One of the very particular concerns in this issue is that "just ask someone for help" business.  If you are elderly and not particularly computer-literate, who do you ask for help you can understand, and by what methods do you go about doing the asking?  It's not as simple as dialing 211 for 'the hookup' and asking the agent who answers to get you an Amtrak schedule from Cincinnati to Oakland.

Part of the difficulty 'so far' (as far as IxD is concerned) is that there is no one 'standard' to use with elderly non-computer-literate people.  Just making large groups of such people aware of 'how to get schedules' can be difficult, first in making them aware that 'it can be done', then facilitating it when they actually start trying to do it and start encountering problems and confusion and delay.

Assuring that different "cohorts" all have simple experiences, almost by definition, requires complex systems and approaches overall.  That is part of why the approach needs to be 'more complicated than that'.

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Posted by runnerdude48 on Friday, April 13, 2018 12:07 PM

All of this begs the question of who needs a timetable any way?  Except of course railfans.  The vast majority of people only want to know what time does my train leave and what time does my train arrive?  In almost all instances anything else is superfluous.

Airlines have not published timetables for years.  How do elderly noncomputer literate passengers get flight information?  They call the airline or visit their travel agent.  For Amtrak they can call the 800 number or visit a travel agent if they don't have a relative, friend or neighbor to help them get the information.  By insisting that Amtrak maintain its old ways just to satisfy a small need it will never be able to grow. 

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Posted by spsffan on Friday, April 13, 2018 3:23 PM

Trains are different than airplanes. While a plane might make one or maybe even two stops en route, a train will make many. And the scheduled time of each stop is of interest and, sometimes, concern to passengers. If you're late at Oxnard, and later at Santa Barbara, it's a good idea to prepare to be late into Salinas and San Jose. As far as it goes, I'm not sure that printed timetables in stations are that important, but something should be available on the trains themselves.

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