The train in Pakistan is faster than Amtrak

Did you hear that, Amtrak?

Okay, it’s not always faster, but just lookie here:

The train in Pakistan goes from Rahim Yar Khan to Karachi in 10 hours. That is 386 miles, or 621 kilometers.

rahim yar khan to karachi

Meanwhile, I have been on the “Carolinian” between Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington D.C. about 50 times. The route, which does an annoying dip down to Selma-Smithfield, is 475 miles (764 km). Ostensibly, this trip is supposed to take 10 hours, too.

amtrak carolinian route

So far, it’s barely better than the Pakistani train. The problem is that the Carolinian is always breaking down, and in my fifty times of traveling on it, it must have come an average of 1.5 hours late. Seriously! Lots of times it’s 2 hours late or more. Last time I checked, there was a cute little statistic on the Amtrak site claiming that the Carolinian was on average 20 minutes late or something. Hahahahahaha … NO!

Pakistan’s train is traveling at roughly 38.6 miles/hour. Last time I rode the Carolinian, it was four hours late. I’m sorry, that’s just unacceptable! And when it is four hours late, it is traveling slower than 34 miles/hour, so yes, it’s slower than the Pakistani train. And even when it’s two hours late, which is very normal for the Carolinian, then the train is traveling at 39.6 miles/hour. Barely better. Come on, Green New Deal, we need you!

Amtrak’s clever plan for getting from Houston to Chicago

Let us first examine the map, so we know what we’re talking about:

amtrak houston chicago

See that, Houston to Chicago, a straight shot north across the United States.

Here’s Amtrak’s proposal:

Step 1: take the Sunset Limited train from Houston to Los Angeles.

Step 2: take the Coastal Starlight from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon.

Step 3: take the Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago.

amtrak houston chicago long way

In all, it takes you 117 hours (5 days) and you take a real scenic route through two thirds of the US. So what are you waiting for?!

Note: In Amtrak’s defense, that was their second suggestion.

 

Nothing to eat by the station

I was supposed to have a simple 4-hour trip by public transportation from Chapel Hill to Concord: Step 1, bus from Chapel Hill to Durham. Step 2, train from Durham to Kannapolis. Step 3, bus from Kannapolis to Concord.

First, I showed up to the bus stop in front of Carolina Coffee Shop in Chapel Hill at 9.16 in the morning, four minutes before the bus. The bus was on time, and I was at the Durham Amtrak station before 10 am. So far, so good.

I bought my train ticket, and since I had 30 minutes before the train showed up, I decided: wouldn’t it be nice and cozy to get something to eat (I hadn’t had any breakfast.) If you leave the train station from the main door, and walk across the crazy parking lot with the grass growing through cracks in the pavement and remnants of the old rail road tracks coursing through it, you come to a street, and you just walk on it for a block and you’ll be in a business district. There used to be a simple little cafe here where you could get quick sandwiches, but alas, it was nowhere to be seen. Instead, most everything was closed on this Sunday morning and the only thing open was a New Orleans (?) themed restaurant that doesn’t know what it’s doing. I only had 20 minutes left by this point, so I asked them: can you just make me an egg-and-cheese-biscuit, because I don’t have time for your fancy brunch.

Yes, we can, they said, except we don’t have biscuits, we only have English muffins.

Well, no problem, I say, but do you think it will be done in time so I can catch my train at 10:30?

Let me go check, I’m told. So someone disappears into the kitchen, and when she comes back, she doesn’t have a time estimate, she just tells me that they don’t have English muffins after all, it’ll have to be on toast.

And how much does this cost? Again, not sure, but another lady sets up the accounting ledger: it’s $1.50 for cheese, and $2.00 for bread, and such-and-such for the eggs.

All this has already eaten up another five minutes, and now they tell me, sure, it’ll be done in time, in like 15 or 20 minutes. So I give it all up as a bad job, run the five minutes back to the train station, and wait. At 10.32, I realize that we’re still sitting in the station, they haven’t made the boarding call to go stand outside on the platform which should happen 10 minutes before the train comes. So I go up to get information: oh, the train is delayed until 10:50. Well, if I’d known that, I could have taken my time at the New Orleans place, clueless though they were.

Right around 10.50, the train station makes a new announcement: actually, the train won’t come till 11.15. I run out of the train station again, in the opposite direction, but there’s no quick and easy and convenient food on this end either. I just find a cafe with overpriced scones, but it’s the best option compared to being grumpy the whole train ride from lack of food. I get a tomato, spinach, and cheese scone and run back to the train station, where the train now is not expected till 11.30 or something. And finally they tell us that there’s a complete system failure and no trains are moving anywhere – in the entire state of North Carolina? I don’t even know.

Of course, a little bit after that announcement, a loud freight train came whistling through the station. So they had to come back on the announcements and change the story.

The train finally showed up at 12.20, two hours after it was supposed to get to Durham – indeed, it showed up in Durham about the time it was supposed to deliver me to Kannapolis. But I kept my good humor through all this. What really made me mad was when I showed up in Kannapolis at 2:30, ten minutes after my bus to Concord had left – and the next bus wouldn’t show up for over 1 more hour. So not only did the train come 2 hours late, it managed to time things so I got to Kannapolis at exactly the worst possible time.

It was mid-afternoon and I’d had only had a scone to eat all day, and I was still two hours from getting home. I now commenced a weary trek of about 4 miles’ radius around the Kannapolis train station, to see if there was maybe just a crust of bread somewhere to be had. No, nothing! The whole of Cannon Village, which is right across the street and used to have a slim and revolving selection of restaurants, had now dwindled to nothing at all and the whole thing is torn up by construction and fences covered in big blue tarp, and I didn’t realize it so I followed one of the fences, thinking a surprise sandwich shop would pop up somewhere surely, and instead all I got was a dead brick end and more blue tarp. I don’t know what the people who work in the research buildings over there (unless they’ve also shut down) eat.

I was super mad at this point, and had also been completely abandoned by everyone who could have given me a ride. I went back to the train station (lugging my roller bag the whole time, of course) and struck out in the opposite direction. Again, nothing. I came across a white plank coffee-shop that promised pastries inside, and flag waving at its curb said it was ‘open’. But I knew that was all a trick and sure enough it said ‘closed’ at the front door. I literally walked a mile till I came to a gas station and finally was able to add pop tarts, peanut m’n’ms and a bag of chips to the sum of the day’s sustenance.

Then I had to walk all the way back to the train station and wait for the bus (still 15 minutes away). I took first the Brown bus to the bus transit center; had to wait 15 minutes; and finally the Orange bus left for downtown Concord. I got off at the bus stop at 4.25 pm. So it had been over 7 hours since I boarded the bus in Chapel Hill, there had been practically nothing to eat anywhere along the way, and I’d traveled a distance of 100 miles. It’s like being back in the horse and buggy days, though even those probably can do 100 miles faster. You know, the buses are clunky but they at least did what they were scheduled to do. It was the stupid Amtrak that threw everything off.