🚗 🚙 Turn your trusty old car into trustworthy journalism Learn more

With less traffic, trains are flying

Eve Troeh Sep 7, 2009

With less traffic, trains are flying

Eve Troeh Sep 7, 2009


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.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.