Leaving Chicago Union Station on rerouted Amtrak California Zephyr

I wasn’t aware when I boarded that there was going to be a reroute on Amtrak California Zephyr. No announcement was made inside Chicago Union State Metropolitan Lounge that this would occur. It was one big nice surprise dropped on me when onboard announcements started.

Do to reroute I actually traveled backwards. I had already been to Joliet Illinois on Lincoln Service going to Chicago that day. There was of course a perfectly legitimate reason for reroute. Would have liked to be given a bit more advanced notice.

BNSF Railway was in process of replacing 2 bridges. So Amtrak and freight that used them – had to be diverted to other routes.

Honestly once I left Chicago – trip was mostly downhill transportation wise. California Zephyr #5 crew on 11/16/2014 where excellent. Lady whose name I have forgotten – basically acted like a sleeping car attendant for Coach passengers the whole trip. She had a long discussion with man across from me – who claimed to have been involved with Acela project and rail safety – about customer service and how she feels customers deserve higher quality experience.

I don’t ever recall an Amtrak employee offering to get drinks and food for Coach passengers on any other route I’ve ridden ( good sleeper car attendants will offer to do so & Acela First Class gives this level of service as standard ). I’ve been a California Zephyr ticket holder in past and had never seen this type of service. Maybe this is Amtrak’s attempt at modern day Zephyrettes. It also could be directly related to trying to resolve past customer complaints about service quality on California Zephyr.

While I feel horrible for forgetting her name – I clearly remembered her going above and beyond to serve customers. I didn’t place a memo in my phone with her name. You can hear her voice in the video towards end.

Conductor was polite / friendly and kept passengers very well informed about schedule times and what was taking place in regards to when we were stopped or doing equipment transitions.

All that still does very little to make up for being over 3 hours late to Burlington Iowa – after leaving Chicago on time. It also doesn’t make up for no advance warning about delays – when it was well known bridge work would cause them.

I had received several email and phone alerts about Lincoln Service track work and possible delays. Nothing in regards to California Zephyr issues.

Two days later when I was starting to head home – I did receive a very early morning text alerting me California Zephyr was running over 3 hours late. This allowed me to change my connecting reservation in Chicago ( still barely made that 7PM Lincoln Service ). However it was to late to get a later hotel check out. So I ended up spend most of my day in run down Burlington Iowa Amtrak station with 2 gangbangers blasting music for several hours. On top of not feeling safe – station was freezing cold with very minimal heat.

Burlington Iowa Amtrak station is an example of once glorious vibrant stations that have fallen on hard times. Friends of depot do holiday displays in old ticket agent area – that is about it. Station is in serious disrepair – bathrooms falling apart and definitely not very safe. Unfortunately there are many Amtrak terminals is similar condition and plenty where passengers do not feel safe boarding. There have been a good amount of station renovations in various cities past couple of years. But still much more work needing done. Especially in regards to station safety.

In end California Zephyr showed up to Burlington 3 hours 44 minutes late on 11/18/2014. When I found out a roomette was available I had girlfriend upgrade me. Reservation got screwed up – got that resolved right after I boarded. If I didn’t get roomette – conductor was going to seat me with stoner who was sleeping on both seats. Although plenty of other empty seats were available.

Conductor did rush me back to roomette and made sure I got a lunch reservation. So thumbs up on that. Although he did call back to room attendant with wrong name. Sleeper car attendant never heard Conductor correct that. When we got into Chicago he was calling me by wrong name – which was name of gangbanger passenger who had caused all the drama in Burlington station. That Sleeper car attendant did offer great service for all customers in Car 0632 California Zephyr 11/18/2014.

Since I initially did not have roomette reservation setup – had to board at Coach door. This meant all my luggage was there. I had to rush my lunch to get food down before next station stop. I then walked to Coach car got my bags and walked on platform back to my sleeper car.

I’ll spare readers all the drama we went through with Amtrak customer service on phone and Guest Rewards after this travel experience. Didn’t make me feel like my business and loyalty over years was appreciated.

Video shows California Zephyr #5 leaving Chicago Union Station on 11/16/2014. I was in a Coach seat going out. You will hear announcements and explanation as to why train will be severely delayed that day. It’d be interesting to know how many other passengers got that surprise dropped on them only after boarding and starting to head out.

I’d assume it was very long line of rolling stock since Amtrak Southwest Chief Train #3 was in front and California Zephyr was connected to it. Separation of both trains took place in rail yard just outside Galesburg Illinois.

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See what combined Amtrak Southwest Chief and California Zephyr looked like rolling through Joliet by watching video below.

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