Leaving town used to be easy

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Friday, August 5, 2011

Today I embark on a 15-day trip by passenger train around North America, much like what I wrote about in the August issue of Trains. The difference is Washington to Chicago; I’ve leaving DC via the Capitol Limited and returning on the Cardinal. At any rate, more has changed than just my venue.

A year ago you could book long-distance Amtrak travel and rely upon it. Not so today. It’s no fault of Amtrak or the host railroads. Mother Nature, in the form of historic levels of runoff from last winter’s snowstorms, is largely to blame. So there go the frequency and reliability of the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle and the California Zephyr from Chicago to Oakland, both victims of floor waters.

But it’s more than that. A freight train derailment on a bridge in Indiana KO’d the Cardinal for a couple of weeks this summer. Yesterday another derailment, in East Texas, sent the Texas Eagle on a time-consuming detour. You name it, it’s happening.

So I’m a little bit apprehensive as I prepare to venture forth. I hold no guarantees that this trip will occur as planned. But I see something else out there: The possibility (not too great as I write this, but there all the same) that cuts in government spending will within the next year curtail Amtrak’s modest network of long-distance trains.

This dire possibility adds to the urgency of my travel plans. Never depend tomorrow on today’s transportation options. I violated that rule in my youth and missed more great train trips than I have fingers and toes. I’m not going to make the mistake again. As I travel, I’ll keep you abreast. — Fred W. Frailey

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