With less traffic, trains are flying

Amtrak's Coast Starlight, which runs from Los Angeles to Seattle, northbound at San Jose Diridon Station

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: If you're driving this Labor Day weekend, some good news: gas is a dollar cheaper than a year ago and AAA says there'll be 13 percent fewer cars on the road. Of course, you don't have to worry about either issue if you take the train, which is what reporter Eve Troeh did.


Eve Troeh: For my summer vacation, I climbed aboard the Coast Starlight and rode all the way from Los Angeles to Seattle. The train runs along the Pacific Ocean, through the hills of wine country, past snowy mountains and clear streams.

To me, it sounded relaxing. But most people just asked: How long will that take? Answer: 34 hours. And delays often made the trip even longer. That's earned the Coast Starlight a nickname:

David Warmouth: The "Coast Starlate."

David Warmouth was another passenger. He told me the train was usually late because Amtrak has to pull over for trains owned by Union Pacific or Santa Fe.

Warmouth: Amtrak doesn't own the rails, so the freight traffic had priority.

Last year, the Coast Starlight was late about half the time. No fun for passengers, but not always so bad for train workers. Like Tom, a sleeper car attendant:

Tom: Two, three, four, five, six hours late in each direction. Every day. Everybody wanted to work this train because it was the moneymaker. Overtime!

But lately, the train's been 90 percent on time.

Tom: You know, since the economy's gone bad, there's no freight trains. And without freight trains we run on time.

Freight is down about 18 percent, according to the American Association of Railroads. Which sure helped my ride. When I woke up for my second day on the train, evergreen forests whizzed by all the way to Puget Sound. That evening, we reached the end of the line.

Conductor: Prepare yourself for arrival in the Emerald City of Seattle, Washington. Seattle, Washington, this is it.

We were 40 minutes early. So early, in fact, that my ride wasn't there yet to pick me up.

Waiting in Seattle's King Street Station, I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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