Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Did I Mention That Amtrak Sucks?

Time and time again I sing my song of hatred to Amtrak, the cruel tyrant of the rails. If you read the news, you know that Amtrak has lately taken its anti-transportation philosophy to a whole new level by preventing maritime movement with a stupid drawbridge that was stuck shut, obstructing movement between the (Mighty!) Niantic River and Long Island Sound. I could get into that more, but I'm sure is all over it. No, today I want to point out yet another dumb thing about the way Amtrak does ticketing: You can only get your tickets at the station.

I know that to our octogenarian readers, that seems like a silly complaint. "Where else would you buy your train tickets?!" they cry indignantly. "At the five and dime? What's next - will the WPA mandate that soda jerks, shoe shine boys, and trolleycar conductors sell train tickets as well, proving once and for all that Roosevelt is but a front for the dread Bolshevik, Eugene V. Debs?!! Phooey!" (That is how old folks talk, even when they are reading a blog.) But here's the thing: Amtrak has a website. On this website you can reserve tickets. But to get the tickets, you have to go to the station agent or to the ticket machine.

Why does this matter? Well, suppose, hypothetically, that you have to work late in Bridgeport, and you can't catch a Metro North train till 6:55, which puts you into New Haven at 7:23, and the train to Hartford leaves at 7:25. You have two minutes to go downstairs from the platform, walk to the main part of the station, go to a ticket machine, get your ticket, and return to another track to get on the train. If you could buy tickets online or on the the train (or even on the platform), this wouldn't be so tough. If you could buy a New Haven-to-Hartford ticket from an Amtrak ticket machine in Bridgeport, that would solve the problem. But you can't. So you're pretty much relegated to the 8:30 train.

Unless, by some stroke of luck, the Acela from Washington to Boston runs late, causing Amtrak to delay the regional train from New Haven to Hartford, in which case, our hypothetical traveler (who is actually me, yesterday), like all the fish in the Sound that avoided being caught because the boats that would catch them were stuck on the Niantic River, gets an unexpected reprieve born of Amtrak's incompetence.

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