How to get seats together

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jis

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I kind of do not get the excuses why Amtrak cannot do LD seat assignments.

The railroad reservations bureaus did it routinely, although manually with paper car charts. Creating an electronic equivalent is not a particularly challenging task.
I agree with you. They are just excuses to try to avoid spending the effort to do a good job in the reservations system

The problem of optimal allocation of seats is an example of a class of problems known as the Knapsack Problem in the field of Computational Complexity. These are known to be NP Complete in that there is no polynomial time algorithm to get the most optimal solution. However, there are dynamic programming techniques using various heuristics that gets one pretty close. So while you cannot get the absolute perfection, you can get pretty good and close to optimal solutions in most cases. Suffice it to say that unless one has some training in Computational Complexity and dynamic programming one is unlikely to either dream up or easily understand the algorithms. In any case all hope is not lost, and specially if some human intervention is allowed then bad corner cases can be thrown back to a human to provide information about what the preferred course is.

Anyway, such systems exist and are used in real life. An outfit like Amtrak has to engage people who actually know what they are doing instead of those that are running by the seat of their pants.

In case it interests you, as a starter you can get a feel for the field from the link I provided above to a Wikipedia writeup on it.

Anyhow here is an interesting paper on the subject if it catches your fancy: The Seat Reservation Problem (PDF)
 

BBoy

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On the topic of seat assignments, in the future traveling on Amtrak's Sunset Limited between NOL to LAX. If traveling in coach class, (party of 2-- my brother and I) is seating first come first served or will the TA or conductor assign coach seats?
 

Amtrak709

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Columbus, GA
I agree with you. They are just excuses to try to avoid spending the effort to do a good job in the reservations system

The problem of optimal allocation of seats is an example of a class of problems known as the Knapsack Problem in the field of Computational Complexity. These are known to be NP Complete in that there is no polynomial time algorithm to get the most optimal solution. However, there are dynamic programming techniques using various heuristics that gets one pretty close. So while you cannot get the absolute perfection, you can get pretty good and close to optimal solutions in most cases. Suffice it to say that unless one has some training in Computational Complexity and dynamic programming one is unlikely to either dream up or easily understand the algorithms. In any case all hope is not lost, and specially if some human intervention is allowed then bad corner cases can be thrown back to a human to provide information about what the preferred course is.

Anyway, such systems exist and are used in real life. An outfit like Amtrak has to engage people who actually know what they are doing instead of those that are running by the seat of their pants.

In case it interests you, as a starter you can get a feel for the field from the link I provided above to a Wikipedia writeup on it.

Anyhow here is an interesting paper on the subject if it catches your fancy: The Seat Reservation Problem (PDF)
jis: Wow! I was fascinated by your reference and link to "The Seat Reservation Policy (PDF)" above. One would think that I as a graduate of The College of William and Mary would, at least, understand some of it--but I don't think I did. Back in my days of working part time for the C&O at the Williamsburg passenger station in the mid to late 1960's, we just called Richmond Broad Street when we needed a seat on the Meteor, Star, Champion, Florida Special, etc--agent just pulled the car diagram, assigned the seat, agent gave us six digit reservation number, we sold the reservation check for $.50 or $1.00 and the passenger went happily on his way. Admittedly times have surely changed but that system, I guess, worked. Just another reminiscence of the good old days.
 

Maglev

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I have experienced a variety of seat assignment selection methods employed on Amtrak, although most of my recent travel has been in sleepers. The Cascades, well before the pandemic, had a person assign seats before boarding in Portland and Seattle (and maybe elsewhere? Tacoma or Eugene?). I think seats were also assigned for the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder when it departed Seattle, but as I mentioned, this was discontinued before the pandemic.

On my last Cascade trip in 2020, seating was a free-for-all. I rode the Empire Builder Seattle to Shelby in September, 2022; and in Seattle, as we were boarding, the attendant told single travelers to go to the front of the coach and couples or groups to the rear. We were told to keep the seat next to us clear because it would be occupied later. He then came through and marked seat checks with seat numbers of vacant seats, and handed those out to the (many) boarding passengers in Everett. I later noticed that some groups of seats in the rear of the coach were marked off for down-the-line boarding parties.

After Wenatchee, when the coach had emptied out considerably, the attendant told passengers they could spread out and use two seats.

I don't think pre-selection of seats is a good idea for long-distance trains. Ideally, the coach attendant saves seats for groups and manages extra-seat hogs.
 

jis

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In India there is reserved seats/berths on most long distance trains and for all Sleepers. Without that there would likely be riots before each train departure, which of course they wish to avoid at all cost :) On many trains there are a couple of non reserved seating cars, and on popular routes it is a site to behold when the empty consist arrives at a station for passenger boarding.

Only in places where not too many people actually travel by train can you get away with no reserved accommodation. At least you need to have some reserved accommodation possibly interspersed with non-reserved ones like in the UK for example.
 

BCL

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I have experienced a variety of seat assignment selection methods employed on Amtrak, although most of my recent travel has been in sleepers. The Cascades, well before the pandemic, had a person assign seats before boarding in Portland and Seattle (and maybe elsewhere? Tacoma or Eugene?). I think seats were also assigned for the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder when it departed Seattle, but as I mentioned, this was discontinued before the pandemic.

I rode the Coast Starlight in 2015 from Seattle, riding coach. I remember the procedure was that I went to the check-in counter (there were coach and sleeper counters). Right in the back in this photo.

Seattle_King_Street_Station_Inside.jpg


I presented my ticket and was handed a car assignment (I think something like 1-4) and then I went to the platform to the assigned car where an attendant then assigned a seat. This was on a clipboard with a seating map. It seemed a lot more assignment on the fly than anything else.
 
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