Amtrak 319: CHI to STL

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Lead Service Attendant
Dec 26, 2021
I took the Lincoln Service - Missouri River Runner train on Friday, November 3. We were four hours late into St. Louis due to some random events - a truck stuck under a bridge, a drunk person on the bridge over the Mississippi River. But we also left an hour late due to equipment malfunctions. Had we not left an hour late, we likely would have missed all the random occurrences that struck us along the way.

The on-board crew did the best they could under the circumstances, providing passengers with timely updates (frankly, too many updates), snacks and free pizza in Springfield.

That said, the on-board crew also relayed why we were delayed leaving Chicago Union Station. They said the back red "brake lights" on one of the Siemens Venture cars wasn't working, so the car had to be swapped in the consist, and numerous cars had brake lines/air hoses that had to be replaced. Given the age of the Siemens Venture fleet, this strikes me as deferred/delayed maintenance more than anything else.

In typical Amtrak fashion, our eventual one hour, 15 minute delay out of Union Station had no accompanying info to it. No one could tell you when the train would depart. The only info conveyed were announcements over the "loudspeaker" that were so quiet I couldn't decipher what was said, and one extremely apathetic Amtrak employee who kept repeating "the train is delayed, no other information is known."

When the train was finally called from the Great Hall, passengers had about 20 seconds to get themselves together before the "kindergarten line" began moving to the gate areas. For some strange reason, we then had to line up in roped off lanes in the gate area before boarding - it was as if Amtrak didn't trust its own passengers with the concept of "form a line."

Boarding had the usual foibles; at the back car in the consist, an Amtrak employee asked every passenger for their destination and then directed them to board or keep walking forward. I was in a group of 3; when we encountered the next employee, though we were pretty clearly a group (friends, not family to be fair), he tried to split us up for no ostensible reason. The train was not anywhere close to 100% full departing Chicago, although it was close to 100% when we reached St. Louis.

The Venture cars were filthy on the outside - up close, the white paint was basically a grubby gray. The windows were entirely filmed over.

The interior of the Venture cars were in decent condition. This was my first ride in these cars - they ride incredibly smooth and quietly, a huge upgrade for Amtrak. The seats were acceptable - not as bad as people have made them out to be, not as good as they could be. I found the cushioning to be fine; the lack of recline is a bit bizarre. Nevertheless, I managed to sit in these seats for nine hours with no ill effects.

The overhead white fluorescent lights are perhaps industry standard - pretty much all I saw on a recent trip taking Italian trains - but they are a bit harsh to my eyes. Given that each seat has overhead reading lights, it would be nice if the overhead lights can be dimmed a bit when darkness falls outside. I'm not sure if that is possible, or if Amtrak would do it either way.

The Venture bathrooms are an infinite upgrade over Amfleet. We had an Amfleet cafe/business car in the consist; after 7 hours of travel, the bathroom smelled in that car. The Venture car bathrooms did not smell at all. Likewise, you can wash your hands in the Venture sinks without spraying a gallon of water everywhere.

I was concerned about the lack of things working in a fleet of cars that is only a couple years old. The table extensions didn't work in the center seating area where a group of 4 can sit around a table. One of the automatic plexiglass at the end of the car doors wouldn't automatically open. The overhead digital displays in the cars, which ostensibly would list the next station stop and travel times, didn't work at all (or no one tried to make them work).

Overall, this one trip felt like one step forward, one step back for Amtrak in the Midwest.