America’s underfunded national railroad needs all the goodwill it can get. Crazy computerized routing is not the way to get it.
So I’m plotting a big trip in mid-June to the Deep South — Atlanta and New Orleans — and looking for ways to save money, when I get a flash of inspiration.
Why not make the return trip by train?
Specifically, a one-way ride from the NOLA back to Southern California on the Sunset Limited.
When I was five, I traveled with my mother from New Orleans to Los Angeles via the Sunset Limited, back when rail travel in the United States was nearing the end of its heyday.
It was her first trip to California. It was my first big trip anywhere. That was the trip that kindled my life-long love of travel — and my life-long love of trains.
Now, I could re-live those childhood days, and see how today’s Sunset Limited compared with the one that still flies in my memory across the American Southwest.
I eagerly logged onto the Amtrak reservation site on the Web, entered my travel information and waited to see what I could get.
What I got was a route that eventually brought me back to California aboard three different trains, not one of which was the Sunset Limited:
- New Orleans to Washington DC aboard the Crescent.
- Washington DC to Chicago aboard the Capitol Limited.
- Chicago to Los Angeles aboard the Southwest Chief.
The Amtrak reservation page gave me three different prices for the same routing.
Only after scrolling down more than half the page of reservations did I come to the routing specifically for the Sunset Limited — and when I did, I found that it was cheaper to fly, anyway.
I’d already “told” the Amtrak reservation computer that I was looking for a one-way trip west from Louisiana to California. Why then would it first show me three routings going east and then north in a great transcontinental circle that would take five days instead of the Sunset Limited’s two?
Am I the only one who thinks this is nuts? Who’s programming Amtrak’s reservation system these days, Elmer Fudd?
I may be wrong, but I highly doubt that this kind of absurdity would happen while making a one-way reservation for the TGV in France or the Shinkansen in Japan, or even on one of China’s high-speed trains.
From its inception, Amtrak has had to fight for its existence, bowing and begging for funds from a Congress that has been bent on doing away with the service almost from the day it was founded. It needs all the friends it can get, both among the traveling public and on Capitol Hill.
This is not the way to get them.