Amtrak Sell Out?
November 15, 2007 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Amtrak Train Holiday Filter question: does a "sold-out" train ever get new tickets available?

I want to take the train either December 21st or 22nd from Chicago to Kansas City. The quick, six hour train is sold out leaving my only other option as a ten hour trip with an hour layover and a train switch in St. Louis. I see on their website that tickets may come available if people cancel, but that seems like a shot in the dark to me.

Do I have any hope of getting a ticket on the Ann Rutledge (6 hr train)? and Why can't the train just add more cars if they need more seats. Yes, I have read this CNN transcript, but I'm still in the dark.
posted by aetg to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
Response by poster: Hmmm....apparently I'm really feeling "in the dark" here. Please, don't mind my subconscious quirks.
posted by aetg at 6:38 PM on November 15, 2007

Have you thought about the bus? It's usually cheaper and (sometimes) faster.
posted by piper4 at 6:45 PM on November 15, 2007

Response by poster: I have thought about the bus, but both Greyhound and Megabus seem to be similar or longer times and I have had bad experiences with Greyhound. Currently, they owe me $40 for a ticket I bought for a bus that never showed up.
posted by aetg at 6:49 PM on November 15, 2007

Response by poster: Which is also why I'm a little hesitant about the train layover in St. Louis. 1 hour is not very long, if the first train is late I could be stuck in St. Louis for 24 hrs.
posted by aetg at 6:51 PM on November 15, 2007

I have seen seats open up on a train that was previously sold out, but they disappeared just as quickly. You'd have to be lucky, and I wouldn't want to rely on it, but I have seen it happen while I was searching for tickets through the Amtrak website.

My guess, though, is that you're not going to see many cancellations until just before the trip, so that really doesn't help you.
posted by adiabat at 6:57 PM on November 15, 2007

Keep in mind that Amtrak's ticket prices shoot up as fewer seats are available (I'm half-asleep; I think I mean "prices rise in inverse proportion to the number of available seats"). So whatever you ARE able to get will be crazy expensive. For a six hour trip, Greyhound or craigslisting a rideshare may be a better bet.
posted by soviet sleepover at 7:35 PM on November 15, 2007

Also, Greyhound is often on time, whereas Amtrak is rarely ever on time (partly their fault; partly because they share lease use of the freight lines as far as I understand, and thus freight trains take precedence). If I had to risk it with something for a short trip, rather than a small adventure (w/ sightseeing lounge, diner car, etc), I'd far, far rather go with Greyhound.
posted by soviet sleepover at 7:37 PM on November 15, 2007

I have taken the southwest chief a handful of times and I have seen it above capacity before. They have put people without seats in the lounge car.

I think the key is to get on the train outside of Chicago. At a smaller station where they don't check for tickets before boarding. At those stops, you can purchase your ticket from the conductor. Seems I recall a conductor saying that they don't turn people away at that point.

They may have changed policy so this could be risky. Look at the route map for stops that say they don't sell tickets at the station.
posted by GregWithLime at 8:56 PM on November 15, 2007

On a three hour train from San Diego to north of LA, I rode with three friends home for Thanksgiving the year before last. The train was sold out and they all showed up anyway hoping to make it on (I had cleverly bought tickets, having dealt with this the year previous). They were sold tickets for a later train, but Amtrak was trying to speed up boarding for everyone so they were taking tickets at the station and issuing those little colored cards that you stick in the plastic slot above your seat.

Well, my friends just got right on the same train I was on, which I'd reserved weeks in advance, and stuck those cards in the slot like they owned the place. Sure enough, nobody ever called them on it; the train was just too chaotic.

It kind of was a crummy move because the reason the train was "sold out" was because they wanted to make sure everyone had a seat, so we saw some folks standing in the aisles. But what I'm saying is Amtrak has a lot of holes that are open for exploitation by the audacious. How audacious you're feeling about missing Thanksgiving is entirely up to you.
posted by crinklebat at 8:56 PM on November 15, 2007

Amtrak is rarely ever on time

Except between Washington and Boston, Amtrak owns almost no track, so they're at the mercy of, for example, CSX, whose trains always take priority (meaning you'll sit on a siding while trains logner than you knew existed go by), and who, in one case, delayed us because they couldn't figure out how to switch the train onto the southernmost track so that passengers could get on and off at Syracuse.

You may want to consider the bus. I haven't taken Greyhound in more than six years, but I had a good experience with New York Trailways between New York and Toronto, which is a longer trip than you're taking.
posted by oaf at 4:43 AM on November 16, 2007


I was going to check to see whether there's something like Trailways that goes from Kansas City to Chicago, but Greyhound's web site appears to be down at the moment.
posted by oaf at 4:47 AM on November 16, 2007

No idea what Jefferson Lines is, but there's no bus option that's anywhere near as fast as the train.
posted by oaf at 5:33 AM on November 16, 2007

Best answer: I just bought a ticket on a train from Chicago to Detroit that was unavailable three days ago.

It happens. Rare, but it happens.
posted by kpmcguire at 11:56 AM on November 16, 2007

Best answer: Why can't the train just add more cars if they need more seats?

Indeed. Especially since these seasonal increases in demand are predictable.
Many reasons come to mind:
  1. It's "too hard."
  2. Passenger rail service in the US has a lower priority than freight. (This is the reason non-NE corridor trains in the US are commonly hours or days late. More in wikipedia.) Why? Because unlike in Europe or Japan, politicians never take the train. As Peak Oil makes air and automotive transport ever more expensive, however, this will change.
  3. Spare rolling stock is unavailable (see 1.)

posted by Rash at 3:06 PM on November 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help including the interesting ideas from GregWithLime and crinklebat.

I've also particularly liked the I hate Greyhound take Amtrak and I hate Amtrak take Greyhound controversy.

Thanks to Rash for clarifying the Amtrak problems. One would assume that it would be more complicated than that, but so it is.

I think I will wait to see if Amtrak opens up in the next month especially since Greyhound prices are consistent up to a week before the trip.
posted by aetg at 8:18 AM on November 17, 2007

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