Great news, train nerds: now you can watch Amtrak trains move about the country in something like real time. It appears that a fair number of these icons report scheduled position rather than actual position, but it’s a really nice interface.

Eric Jaffe explains it all here.

32 Replies to “Amtrak Introduces Real-Time Tracking”

  1. That is pretty cool. When you click on an arrow it tells you how fast the train is going, where it originated, next station arrival time, etc. But I wish there were cams in the cabs of Amtrak locomotives pointing forward through the windshield so we could watch in real time. That would be a pretty easy thing to do on the trains that have Wi-Fi.

    1. Airlines have had this for years and actually get you across the country faster. Amazing !

  2. It doesn’t seem to integrate alert information very well.

    For example, I wanted to look up costs and travel time for Seattle to Ephrata, WA and I noticed an alert for the #7 Empire Builder:

    Empire Builder Trains 7/27 and 8/28: Temporary Service Delays
    Please be advised the Empire Builder has been experiencing delays of two hours or more while operating in North Dakota and Montana.

    However, I didn’t see that alert on the map and when I clicked on the #7 train icon, the popup didn’t mention this. However, I did note that the title bar in the popup was amber yellow (instead of green) so maybe there is some type of information available that I missed.

    1. The color of the popup indicates how late the train is. The real-time tracking data tells you where the train actually is and how fast it’s going, as well — so you can compare it to the schedule and figure out *exactly* how late the train is.

      The tracking data is even accurate when trains are on detours — for instance the California Zephyr has been going through Wyoming lately.

  3. I suppose this somewhat makes up for the fact that King Street Station has no reader boards with arrival information displayed.

    Last time I took a train from Seattle it was a mystery as to when the train was going to arrive… right up until 5 minutes before it showed up (2 hours late).

    1. I can’t wait for the day we have a UK style announcement system. It’s not exactly rocket science.

      [Insert RP-accented female voice] “The next train departing Platform 5 is the 14:30 Cascades service to Portland, calling at Tukwila, Tacoma, Lacey, Centralia, Kelso, Vancouver, and Portland”

      1. With connecting service in Centralia for Aberdeen and Hoquiam, and connecting services in Portland for Hood River, The Dalles and Pendleton, and for Astoria.

    2. has had real-time status information for awhile now, although it was text form for a specific train, rather than a map that showed all the trains at once. It came in handy for a trip home from Whitefish, Montana, last summer, as it allowed us to dawdle around and stroll into the station over an hour after our train was scheduled to leave.

    3. The lack of electronic reader boards (which every [major] station worth its salt has) has been a pet peeve of mine. But then just getting the station returned to its former glory took so many years, I guess I have to be patient. I understand it will eventually happen. At least the cheap felt tack board has not reappeared. It would look woefully out of place in the renovated station.

  4. First, the official term for “train nerds” is “foamers.”

    There’s another site that tracks the progress of current trains and archives train performance so you can check to see what the trend has been for your train:

    Click on “Status File Archives” in the left box to get past performance information.

    1. I moused over every train in the Pacific Northwest…every one of them is late!

      Why do they maintain fictional schedules that they know they will never achieve? Why not just rework them with more reasonable arrival times.

      1. They have to try and pick some schedule. Given how often the trains have to pull off the tracks for freight trains and other issues, the schedule is basically completely unpredictable.

        If they gave the true schedule, almost no one would bother riding it:
        – Departure time: Some unknown time after 4:00 pm, maybe…
        – Arrival time: Likely sometime this evening, possibly tomorrow or even next week.

      2. What are you talking about? Why one earth would you assume that because the trains are running late on one day, they’re always late? What strange notion possessed you to imagine generalizations drawn from one data-moment could be valid?

        The performance information is easily available if you’d bother to look; Amtrak and WSDOT report the information prominently. Cascades has an on time performance rate of ~79% over the last year, and it’s been steadily trending upward.

      3. There are several large construction projects underway between Seattle and Portland which can cause unpredictable delays, so Amtrak has added about 10-15 minutes to the run times. Also, Amtrak builds a large amount of padding into their schedules. Currently train 500 is scheduled to arrive in Tacoma 14 minutes late, but it’s predicted to arrive in Seattle 17 minutes early. That’s a swing of 31 minutes on a run of about 40 miles–the magic of schedule padding.

      4. @djw

        This is not from just my personal experience riding the empire builder, this was from every other passenger I encountered there. If overall the service is reasonable, that’s fine, but at a minimum its been completely unreliable for the last several weeks.

        Every person I talked to on the train had horror stories of the train being hours (or even a day in some cases) late in their recent trips.

        I do not have statistics on this, so maybe the service is normally fine, but its certainly not just on my experience. I am relaying the experience I was hearing from the passengers around me, and it was categorically bad.

        I also heard from the staff that the last several days on the empire builder route had been delayed for 4 or more hours each trip.

        Here are some other folks experiencing similar problems:

      5. BNSF has been rebuilding and expanding track capacity in MT and ND to haul oil tankers from the Bakken fields. That construction creates slow orders and delays, especially in single track territory. Unfortunately the work has to be done in the summer season because it’s much more difficult to work when the temperature is -10 and the snow is 6 feet deep.

      6. That and they’re fighting off the Devil. Not sure if they’re done with that work, either.

      7. Over the years I have taken the Empire Builder from Chicago on many occasions. Notwithstanding this year’s dismal on-time record, I have arrived in SEA on time–or early, thanks to padding between Edmonds and Seattle–many times.

      8. This is not from just my personal experience riding the empire builder, this was from every other passenger I encountered there. If overall the service is reasonable, that’s fine, but at a minimum its been completely unreliable for the last several weeks.

        I was talking about Amtrak Cascades, since John said “every train the pacific northwest” and most of the trains in that category are Cascades. Yes, EB is terrible right now, but both Cascades and Coast Starlight are near or above 80%.

    2. “First, the official term for “train nerds” is “foamers.””

      That’s derogatory, however — the other term is “railfans”.

      1. Seat selection when making online reservations, if at all feasible, would be nice. I dislike standing in that line at KSS to get a seat assignment so much that on the Cascades I travel business. Doesn’t necessarily guarantee a barrier-free window seat, but it improves the chances.

      2. Ah, the check-in line issue.

        Let’s say Amtrak had the extra money to have a reservation system that allowed choosing your own seat, what would your expectation be? Aisle or window? Left side or right (for any view you might think you will get) won’t matter, since the train on any particular day might be running reversed.
        Once Oregon’s trainsets enter the mix, the issue of forward vs. backward will be added, since the seats on those two trainsets don’t swivel. Half the riders will be facing backwards.

      3. I’m pretty sure it would be “feasible” to junk assigned seating entirely, like on every other medium-haul corridor in the Amtrak system (including the far busier Northeast Corridor), as well as on passenger trains all over the world.

      4. True. The best thing would be to junk assigned seating on the Cascades altogether unless 1) there is a very good reason for doing so (versus the NE corridor which, as you state, doesn’t assign seats) or 2) someone has a vested interest to continue to assign, and I can’t think what that would really be.

  5. Very neat! Although at the same time slightly disheartening when you at any given moment how many trains are behind schedule…

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