Thursday, March 19, 2009

Did you know?

Amtrak serves Riverside. It's rare that I talk to anyone who actually knows this, and even rarer that anyone knows the full extent of the service offered every day by the national passenger rail system right here in our city. (All Amtrak services stop at the Riverside-Downtown Metrolink station.)

Amtrak's rail service consists of one train per day (in each direction), which may sound laughably meager, but is in fact rather substantial on most long-haul intercity routes. (All routes with more than one train per day are short-run corridor services, such as SLO-LAX-San Diego or Boston-New York-DC.) It is certainly an improvement over the thrice-weekly offerings at Pomona and Ontario stations.

Where does this mysterious train go? The Southwest Chief runs from Los Angeles to Chicago, stopping at Flagstaff, Albuquerque, and Kansas City (and many small towns and cities in between). It takes three days to travel the entire route, if you count the evening on which you leave, and fares vary by distance and accommodations.

Even more useful than the train (for me at least) is Amtrak California's fleet of motorcoaches that call on our city four times a day in each direction. These buses connect with the San Joaquins in Bakersfield, for trips up the Central Valley to the Bay Area and Sacramento, and bus connections throughout California and as far north as Medford, OR. These are clean, comfortable (and reserved, unlike Greyhound) vehicles, with on-board restrooms and guaranteed connections to your train. Yes, they'll make the train wait for you.

Traveling on the train is quick, affordable, and environmentally friendly (the most efficient form of transportation available per passenger mile). Compared to 7 hours' drive up the I-5, the train wins hands-down. Sure, it takes a touch longer, but during that time you can read, play video games or even catch up on work a bit. (The San Joaquins are equipped with power outlets throughout, the Southwest Chief has limited outlets available.) It beats just staring at the road for hours on end, plus there's food and a restroom available on-board. Not to mention it gives you the chance to look out the window, and there's a lot of interesting sights to be seen next to the railway in the Central Valley. And I don't even need to mention the comparison to flying, do I? Cheaper, stops right here in the city, no airport parking/transit hassles, no security problems, no worrying about whether your deodorant is a 3oz container or not, need I go on?

Passenger rail travel in this country is constantly hindered by the fact that it's simply not on most people's radar. Most people wouldn't even know where their nearest Amtrak station was, nor where they could travel, or when, or how. Passenger rail should play a much larger role in our nation's transportation system, due to efficiency and ecological concerns, and the fact that it doesn't worries me.

For those who are considering an Amtrak trip out of Riverside, read on.

The one trick to traveling Amtrak out of Riverside is: you must have reservations first. You can pick up your tickets at the station, from a Metrolink TVM, but you must have made your reservations either by telephone (1-800-USA-RAIL) or on line beforehand. This doesn't preclude spontaneous trips by any means- you can simply call up and order your tickets and print them at the station in a matter of minutes- but it is something you'll want to keep in mind. If you plan your travel in advance, your tickets can be mailed to you. (They require 9 day advance notice, but the tickets will reach Riversiders in a day or two- Amtrak's customer service center is in Riverside.)

Keep this in mind, and enjoy riding the rails!

1 comment:

twodogkd said...

Yes. I rode it years ago from SF to Riverside, but of course part of the trip was on a bus to get to the train. It was long ago, don't recall too much about it.

Somewhere I have a link that shows local stats for Amtrak. As I recall the passenger level here is very low, below say 9,000 per year. Didn't find it just now.

Here are some other links from the net. I could not open some of the items so don't know if they are of value or not. For some reason things are taking too long to open.

The Transit Coalitioin, Getting Southen California Moving,
Transit Organization Links
Advocacy Organization Links
Historical Rail Sites
Other Informative sites including one Radio station and also U.S. Heavy Rail Transit System

Left panel includes discussion boards

May 2005 Amtrak needs your help to survive from the North County Times, and says that Amtrak has no organized lobbying group to tell its side of the story.

Public Tranist Ridership in 200 and 2001
Provides stats for OMNITRANS, Riverside Transit Agency . . . AMTRAK STATS NOT LISTED?

American Public Transportation Association

Public Transit Riders Save $8,500 Annually -- Economic Stimulus Law Also Provides Up To $230 in Transit Benefit Per Month

National Rail Factbook

National Passenger Factbook