Living in Spain, public transportation was my transportation. Buses, Trains. Metros. Trams. I took them all and some were even a daily occurrence. Even though I lived in the city center, I had 3 public transportation options within 5 minutes of my house. I didn’t always need them but it was nice to know that they were there should the need arise.
Moving back to the Nevada, my public transportation options are scarce. In the small town where my parents live, there is no public transportation. There is a Greyhound bus that stops twice a day (I think) but most people from the town have never taken it and would be scared away by the people getting off and on if they ever did consider it.
I have to admit that I have never taken public transportation in the States. I did take the BART once from Berkeley to San Fran but that’s it. So at 30 years old, I decided it was time.
I had to get from my parent’s town to the nearest airport in Reno to fly to Arkansas to see my best friend graduate from college. Deciding that there was no need for my parent’s to drive me 3 hours one way just to drop me off and drive another 3 hours back home, I booked a train ticket on Amtrak. According to the website, it was going to be an easy almost 3 hour journey from the train station (also 50 miles from my parent’s house as there is no stop in my hometown). The train was scheduled to leave at 5:40 am and arrive around 8:30 the same morning in Reno.
Waking up at 3:45 this morning, the first thing I did was check the train status. I logged on to the website and it immediately told me that my train was 7 hours late and wouldn’t be departing until 12:30 pm!!! I sat there looking at my computer screen in shock, thinking there had to be a mistake. I’ve never heard of a train being 7 hours late. An hour late seemed possible but not 7. So I looked for a phone number to see if there was someone I could call since I knew something had to be wrong. After I called and was given the same information as the website, I thought it was best to download the Amtrak app and see what it said. Well, it gave me the same departing time: 12:37 pm.
I decided it was best to get ready and see if something had changed 30 minutes later. As you can imagine, nothing had. So I told my mom that I was going to go back to bed and check it in a few hours. She decided to do the same since she had been up even earlier than me getting ready.
At 10:00 am I checked the freshly downloaded app on my phone and it now said the departure time was 12:21. This time I knew something had happened but also knew that I wasn’t getting on that train earlier than 12:30.
I finished getting ready (again), had some breakfast and we decided to drive the hour to the train stop. We arrived around 12:00 and there wasn’t a soul in sight so we went to grab a bite to eat. Returning 20 minutes later, we saw a girl waiting also. Well, that’s a good sign we thought.
Another 20 minutes later, a few more people showed up and then right after that, a few men wearing Amtrak uniforms. I talked to the man taking tickets and he explained that there was a problem when the train left Chicago and there had only been more problems since then. A few minutes later the train actually arrived and some interesting (to use a nice word) people got off for a smoke break. The very first girl I saw was wearing some very old pajamas and looked like she hadn’t showered in days. While I was waiting to find out where I needed to get on, I began to smell the faintest hint of weed. Very soon after that it was quite obvious that someone was definitely enjoying their smoke break.
At 1:00 pm I boarded the train, found the nearest empty seat and got ready for the 3 hour ride. Guys that had been on the train for 2 days and were headed to Sacramento, CA surrounded me but I decided to put my 3 hours to good use and pulled out my laptop to write this very blog post.
It’s now almost 2 hours later and I am beginning to understand why public transportation is not so common in the USA. We haven’t even travelled what would be an hour in the car and stopped twice in the middle of nowhere for God only knows what. My first (and probably last) experience has told me that it’s highly unreliable, really slow and filled with some colorful characters (although there is a group of Amish people and I was really excited about that!).
We finally arrived to Reno at 5:00 pm, 8.5 hours after our scheduled arrival time. We stopped twice on the tracks and our 2.5 hour journey ended up being 4 hours long. There was even an hour that we were stopped on the tracks without any fresh air and didn’t have the possibility of getting off. A guy behind me mentioned that the toilets had overflowed which explained the rancid smell and made my stomach turn even more.
As soon as I arrived to my sister’s house, I sent an email to Amtrak demanding my money back. That’s not too much to ask for, right?
So, this question remains: Is this just Amtrak having a bad day? Or is this normal for train travel in the US?
Let me know what your experiences have been like in the comments section!