Backwards, unecessarily segmented, unreadable.
Backwards, unecessarily segmented, unreadable.

For over a year now, Amtrak Cascades schedules have been incorrectly printed on their website, reading backwards in the southbound direction, both on mobile and on desktop platforms. While tech mistakes happen and are eminently forgivable, not having processes in place to quickly fix crucial pieces of information – such as a basic timetable – is inexcusable. Passengers have a basic right to correct information, and they have a right to have its accuracy prioritized. Over the past several months via Twitter, I have submitted multiple requests to fix the schedule, to no avail. We have been told that it’s a ‘tricky fix’ that they are working on. In the meantime, Amtrak’s stock schedule is much more legible.

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Given the tech talent among STB readership, maybe some of you would be willing to offer to help out WSDOT pro bono with basic data tables? Please email offers of assistance to WSDOT’s Amtrak Cascades Marketing Lead Laura Kingman,

27 Replies to “Fixing WSDOT’s Amtrak Cascades Timetables”

    1. Please note that Amtrak is getting the schedules right (on Amtrak’s national website). It’s WSDOT who are getting the schedules wrong (on WSDOT’s “Amtrak Cascades” website).

    2. A large amount of Government ineptitude right now owes to several decades of self-described “conservatives” working overtime to see to it that every year, every public agency gets less money to do its job. And bragging about it the whole time.

      I’m not sure the corporate world has any such excuse for its own performance over same number of years. After month’s efforts to get an important tool of mine repaired under the warranty of a company I used to respect, here’s what I see.

      The top level of every large organization always has both its attention and its affection directed somewhere besides the actual work of the enterprise. I doubt I’m the only one who suspects that people rise highest who hate their work outfit’s own work the worst. Especially when it’s got trolley poles on the roof.

      But public and private, for office-level management, contagious small-pox caliber career death is a bad outcome traced to a decision of yours. Absolute defense? Well that’s still being studied.

      Zach, you’re dealing with the next level down- the massive staff whose job is to keep their superiors from being bothered by pressure from customers, or voters to deliver the work being paid for.

      These “Customer Service” people don’t have to lie about not being able to get something done. You’ve doubtless also noticed how many employees there are for your call to get passed around to.

      All the above makes every inquiry an infuriating waste of time out of Candid Camera. But the literally “hands on” working level isn’t funny at all. The real work of our country is in the hands of massively understaffed, miserably overworked, criminally unsupported human shields.

      Who, private or public, don’t even work for the agency itself. Providing a felony confession as an excuse: “These people work for a contractor.” And (verbatim, damn it!) “We don’t have any control over them.”

      Empires don’t die like in the movies, with marble columns collapsing and barbarians carrying away screaming Roman women. The foreign fighters who took Rome- and their wives- had gotten tired of waiting for their subcontractor bosses to give them their Roman Army paychecks.

      And the marble got dragged away for low-income residential building material and flower box borders.

      MD

      1. For anyone who’s wondering, this is literally true history from Mark Dublin (I happen to have studied this too):

        “The foreign fighters who took Rome- and their wives- had gotten tired of waiting for their subcontractor bosses to give them their Roman Army paychecks.”

    3. “A large amount of Government ineptitude right now owes to several decades of self-described “conservatives” working overtime to see to it that every year, every public agency gets less money to do its job. And bragging about it the whole time.”

      Thanks. With your long-term experience in union working-class jobs that these conservatives also wanted to obliterate, you immediately see connections that pass by me. I knew this but it didn’t come to mind because it was in another part of my brain.

  1. Over years of making polite suggestions to agencies about user information, I’ve learned that telling an elected official results in a much greater likelihood that the problem will be addressed.

  2. It’s also preposterous that they include the Empire Builder on the SEA-PDX Cascades schedule. Who do they think would take a once-a-day train between VAN and PDX, especially when the west/southbound trains are frequently hours and hours late? Between C-TRAN #4 and the Yellow line, you have all-day frequent service from the actual center of Vancouver on weekdays, and even on weekends when service frequency gets crappy, you’re still unconditionally better off using the real urban transit systems between these two cities than any bizarre Amtrak itinerary.

    As far as I can tell, Amtrak won’t even sell you a VAN-PDX ticket on Empire Builder, perhaps because Amtrak has slightly more gumption and self-respect than WSDOT. It appears, however, they will sell you that itinerary on Cascades and Coast Starlight, which is is still dumb (and presumably WSDOT’s fault). For trains terminating in PDX, VAN should be northbound pick-up only, southbound drop-off only station, just like Old Town is for the Surfliner in San Diego; and likewise for many suburban stops on intercity services all over the world.

    Oh well, one battle at a time. For now, I’ll settle for WSDOT learning how to correctly present simple, static tabular data on a website.

  3. The national timetable might be a bit less legible, but it also features all the non-Cascades services such as the Portland – Salem – Newport bus that serves only part of the corridor.

  4. So IF this a WashDOT problem, call Sacto and ask CalTrans how THEY do their extremely complicated weekday and weekend combined train/bus schedules for the WHOLE state of CA! As someone implied above, this is a symptom of the shrinking number of actual sate and federal workers doing important work, from the National Park Service to the VA and at the state level as well. Read “Bring Back the Bureaucrats” by John Dilulio to find out how BAD this has become..

    1. Somewhere around a third of federal workers are over 55 and will be retired in the next decade. In many cases they won’t be replaced due to budget limitations, absurd hiring rules, and the length of time it takes to hire somebody (meaning they take another job in the meantime). The conservatives rant about shrinking government, but they only have to do nothing and the government will shrink significantly very soon. That means even more things will be left undone.

  5. How the schedule looks is the least of our problems.
    High Speed Rail looked like it was coming to vogue when Mr. Obama took office. We’re still stuck with a fragmented piece of crap rail system, averaging 30 mph between Vancouver, BC and Eugene. Try finding something that goes straight through on a train and not a bus. Try finding something without a mind numbing array of bus or Cascade or Amtrak service IF you can find something that resembles a normal trip of A to B.
    High Speed? Yeah, we may end up bumping our 30 mph to warp speed 35 if we hand over enough bags of money to BNSF over the next millennium.
    Separate ROW is the fix. It’s not complicated. It requires a National determination to do it. Other countries have. We have not.

    1. 30 mph between Eugene and Vancouver doesn’t really work for comparison because it includes the slow stuff at each end.

      Seattle to Portland is 180 miles by road, and slightly longer by train. The 3.5 hours this took before the construction slowdowns means an average speed around 51 mph.

      It’s still no rocket, but it is much less obvious where the speed improvements need to happen.

      1. I’m not sure why deleting the portions of the route that sucks the most helps your case for ‘It sucks, but is less sucky in the middle’.
        Figuring out where to toss the next bag of cash off the train is spelled ‘Incremental Corridor Improvements – forever’ to the BNSF masters.

      2. I’m not sure why deleting the portions of the route that sucks the most helps your case for ‘It sucks, but is less sucky in the middle’.

        Probably b/c the middle is the only part people ride?

    2. and before you jump on me, I think it’s in our National interest to treat the railroad industry like we did the air travel industry 100 years ago.
      Imagine if every airline had their own routes and controllers all competing for landing spots. Chaos.
      What if all rail ROWs were lumped into one National system, with a common control setup, much the way the FAA works (and it’s highly efficient and fair), and duplicate ROW’s were designated either for freight, passengers, or both? How would the UP and BN ROW rise to its ‘best and highest use’ under that scenario.
      How would the Tacoma Eastern ROW between Olympia and Longview be utilized along I-5? (it’s a parking lot of derelict container cars now that haven’t moved in years). How would our National ‘Rails to Trails Act’ operate when local electeds are taken out of the mix? Could we actually return some ROW back to rails without the bike and pedestrian lobby coming unglued?
      That’s just a glimpse of what a National effort could do, given the political will of DC.
      The first step is to figure out what a National HSR 100 year plan would look like, and see if it made economic sense to pursue. Then it’s a matter of working through all the hurdles to make it happen, including the crushing pressure the Class 1’s would bring to bare.

  6. Does Amtrak make its raw schedule and location data available as feeds (like Metro) so that individuals can write apps like OBA and webpages integrating it (and using their own UI design)?

      1. Amtrak.com Train Status. It tells you what the system feeds are. However, it won’t tell you what the BNSF-UP dispatchers are contemplating.

  7. When I first read this, it said the schedules were “upside down and backwards”. I commented asking what you meant about them being upside down. Now my comment is gone, and the article just describes them as backwards. What’s up with that?

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