When one lives in Ohio, any Amtrak train viewable during the day time is a cause for celebration. When the train features a heritage unit and 20 cars of Private Varnish, it’s not even comparable. On Sunday, the American Association of Private Railcar Owners left Chicago for their 38th Annual Convention. Known as the “Spirit of St. Louis, the special charter is travelling on a circuitous routing to St. Louis, stopping for tours in both Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky.
Go West, Young Man!
I have never been out west. Sure, I had journeyed across the Mississippi into suburban Missouri, but I had never seen the great vistas and the famous parks that my country is known for. I had never truly “gone West”. For years I had been telling myself that I needed to do this. But with news that the ex-Santa Fe route of the Southwest Chief may be in jeopardy, I no longer had any excuses. So thus I found myself standing in the wee hours of the morning on the platform at Union Terminal, preparing to board the westbound Cardinal and my Chicago-connection to the Southwest Chief.
This would be a trip of many firsts for me, and it began with my first experience in Amtrak’s sleeper class. I had booked a roomette as part of my 2-zone Guest Rewards redemption. With Cincinnati on the zone-border, that meant I could get to experience the Cardinal’s one single-level sleeper. Additionally, I could bring a friend in my roomette for the same amount of points.
“There are going to be Superliners on the Cardinal tonight. We should go watch it come through.”
“Now the real question is can I think of a reason to go to West Virginia?”
“You know, that might actually be possible…”
That was how it all began. Several hours and one visit to Amtrak.com later, I was on my way to Cincinnati Union Terminal and seriously questioning my sanity.
So you’ve schedule a trip on Amtrak, but the big question remains. Will my train be on-time? If your sitting at home and the anticipation is killing you, there are a couple of different ways you can track your train.
Amtrak automated system, commonly known as Julie, is the traditional way to determine train status. Call 1-800-USARAIL and follow the prompts. You will need to know your train number and departure station.
The Amtrak App
The Amtrak App can be used not only for train tracking, but includes a mobile interface that ties into the reservation system. You can book simple trips right from the app itself, though more complicated reservations, modifications, and cancellations will still need to be made by phone. Use the keyword “Agent” to bypass the voice prompts and get straight to a live human.
Still out in the cold? If they will only take that Blackberry from your cold dead hands, you can use Amtrak’s mobile website at m.amtrak.com.
Unofficial Tracking Websites
I found a site the other day that could be useful to anyone taking the train this Holiday season. Amtrak Status Maps uses public data available on Amtrak’s site to plot the approximate locations of current trains. It also lists if the train is running on time or behind, and if it is behind it will list how many hours.
This site is only limited by the accuracy of the information they are pulling from Amtrak’s system. As an unofficial source, I wouldn’t rely on it as my sole timekeeping source. It could be useful when rail-fanning or to track station performance across the route.
Since this article was originally written, Amtrak has added it’s own Track-A-Train System. Through a partnership with Google, this system relies on GPS devices located in each locomotive in addition to the traditional station arrival information. It will give a more current location and estimated speed rather than just the most recent departure time.
You can read more about it in the full press-release from Amtrak. As with any of these resources, the train can depart at any point after it’s scheduled time. It’s not uncommon to make up time due to schedule padding and other factors. Arrive late at your own risk.