No love for Amtrak tonight

(NB: We went to San Francisco on Sunday. I’ll write about the rest of the trip later, but right now I need to vent!)

Coming home from San Francisco yesterday got a bit too adventurous for my tastes. We made it to the Powell Street [BART][] station on time, but the train we had been planning to board was running late. I figured this wouldn’t be a problem, since we had allowed for a missed connection. Our second BART train *was* on time, so we pulled into the Richmond BART/[Amtrak][] station right on schedule. The [Capitol Corridor][] #746 was sitting right next to the BART tracks, separated from us only by a chain link fence. (The BART train was clearly visible to the Amtrak personnel, if they had bothered to look for it.) We had already arranged for Caitlin, the fastest of us, to run down the platform and stairs, under the tracks, and back up onto the Amtrak platform so she could hold the train for us. I’m sure that there is *somebody* on the planet who could have done this faster than Caitlin, but I don’t think any of them were traveling with us last night. Anyway, as you’ve probably guessed, Caitlin’s head was just clearing the top of the stairs when the doors closed and the train pulled out of the station. Nice way to handle a connection, Amtrak!

We had also planned for the possibility of missing this train. The last train of the day, #748, was due in exactly another hour. But I had never been in the Richmond station after dark, and the quantity and “quality” of beggars, weirdos, and other assorted lowlifes was an eye-opener. Also, it was getting chilly and the wind cuts through every bit of that station like a knife. (We had already spent an hour at the same station that morning. Colder, but no zombies out between 07:00-08:00 on Sunday morning.) So I’m stranded on Amtrak’s platform with my wife and three teen-aged girls, and it’s getting colder and darker by the minute. I could deal with being asked for spare change every few minutes, but the lady down in the station area screaming and cursing at her small children pushed my wife and I beyond our limit, and we decided to get out of there however we could.

Fortunately (?), we weren’t the only ones who got stranded by Amtrak. Two small groups of college students had been on the same BART train, heading for Davis via the #746. We approached both groups, a pair of young women and three young Chinese students, and asked if they would care to join us. Strength in numbers! Now instead of three frail groups, we were TEN–Don’t mess with Us! Granted it was two children, four young women, two young non-threatening guys, and a middle-aged couple, but we all felt much safer in each other’s company.

There was a Burger King about 1.5 blocks away, so we headed for it. Our bad luck continued, as they had locked up the Burger King dining room just before we walked up. (After our experience in that part of town, I can hardly blame them for their policy!) There was a grocery store in the same parking lot, and we managed to get in there before they closed. We agreed to meet back at the front of the store in time to walk back to the station, then we split up and bought ourselves some cold supper. We made it back to the station without incident, in plenty of time for the final train.

Two paragraphs back, I wrote “Fortunately (?)”–I think it *was* fortunate that we didn’t make that train, because I’m not at all sure what would have happened to those college students if we *had* made it and they hadn’t. Would they have banded together? Even if they had, would a group of five been enough for a deterrent? Thanks, Amtrak, for giving me some unpleasant mental fodder.

I may take Amtrak at some point in the future, but I don’t think I’ll ever again stop at the Richmond station. I’ll find another way to make the Amtrak/BART transfer, even if I have to walk a few blocks to do it. But I’d *really* like to know what the operator/driver/engineer was thinking when that train pulled out 30 seconds early, leaving 10 paid passengers stranded in a crappy part of town?

[Capitol Corridor]:

About Jim Vanderveen

I'm a bit of a Renaissance man, with far too many hobbies for my free time! But more important than any hobby is my family. My proudest accomplishment has been raising some great kids! And somehow convincing my wife to put up with me since 1988. ;)
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2 Responses to No love for Amtrak tonight

  1. Nicholas says:

    When I lived and worked in the Bay Area, I used to take an Amtrak bus from the station on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market. That took me to Emeryville, where I transferred to a train. If you’re coming from the airport via BART, that makes two transfers instead of one, but the Embarcadero station is reasonably comfortable and non-threatening, and the train from Emeryville always waits for the Amtrak bus.

  2. Barb says:

    The date of our travel was Sunday, August 3rd. Very eloquently put. I’m glad that we did miss the train and helped out 5 stranded passengers. I would never get off of the train in Richmond again. It was like being descended upon by dementors as they swooped into the tunnel from all directions. It would have been nice for Amtrak to post some security if they are not willing to wait for the BART connection that they advertised.

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