March 5, 2013

Time to Spare; Go by Air or Reasons Why You Should Take Amtrak Home After Attending a NARP NW Regional Meeting

NARP Council Member and AAWA member Barry Green provided this narrative of his trip home from the March 2 NARP/AAWA/AORTA rail advocates membership meeting in Tukwila.

After spending an enjoyable time in the PNW with friends and colleagues attending the 2013 National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) NW Membership Meeting in Tukwila, WA, I would like to offer my thoughts as to why you should take Amtrak home after attending this type of event when held in this part of the country.  Departing from Sea-Tac on Sun. Mar. 3.

  • It is very much appreciated that I have a nice place to stay, good food to eat, and my own chauffeur when I come to the Seattle/Tacoma area.  It is interesting to note that my driver ponders which route to take to pick me up or drop me off from the Sea-Tac Airport.  This, despite the fact, that any of the routes taken always appear crowded and congested during any time of the day with a lot of sketchy drivers on the roads.  One should take transit to the train station and make your Amtrak connection.
  • Tried the self checked baggage kiosk where you enter your flight information and then out pops the baggage tag which you wrap around your checked bag(s).  However, you then have to take it to an airline baggage person for verification and then place said bag(s) on conveyor.  No time saved here.
  • Checking in through TSA is just ridiculous and laughable especially when watching everyone involved and you ask yourself whether or not there is any sanity here in what everyone is doing just to get into the boarding area.
  • Delayed boarding the plane account of some type of cockpit maintenance issue.  Should still have plenty of time to make Billings, MT and a bus ride from Billings to Glendive.  Bus scheduled to depart Billings at 6:30 pm (MT) and arrive into Glendive at 10:20 pm (MT).
  • Finally board plane and are underway approx. 30 min. late.  Somewhat bumpy ride getting through the clouds and to our cruising elevation.  Not too bad though.
  • Drink cart comes along with tiny bag of mixed goodies.
  • Getting closer to Billings and learn that there is a thunderstorm over the airport.  Making an initial attempt to approach and land despite fact that visibility, less than ¼ mile, and wind speeds, 55 to 65 MPH are not conducive to landing a plane.
  • Very bumpy ride now.  Learn that female passenger sitting next to me is a Harvard Grad., a city councilwoman for Sheridan, WY, originally from Louisiana, feisty and opinionated in a reasonable sort of way, has a husband and 1 child that attends kindergarten.  Doesn’t really like WY but husband doesn’t want to leave area since that is where he is from and he’s a lawyer and rancher.  She hates ranching.  She has a real good, high paying, job in the electric industry of Wyoming.  Also informed me that even though most in her family have had flight careers, she doesn’t like flying when it gets bumpy so she may grab onto my arm if the ride gets any worse.  Maybe this is not a bad thing?
  • Over Billings and now learn that the airport has just closed due to a mix of a thunderstorm and snowstorm (thundersnow).  Diverted to Bozeman, MT.
  • Land safely in Bozeman and now stuck on the plane until ground personnel can figure out what to do with us.  Front door open to let in fresh air.  Finally let off the plane after about 20 min. and into the airport until someone somewhere figures out what they are going to do with this flight.  Announcement made that they are going to give us snacks.  Another announcement made shortly thereafter that storm front is moving east and south of Billings and that we should be getting back on the plane soon.  No free snacks.
  • After about an hour or so, show boarding pass, re-board plane, and are on our way for the 30 min. flight to Billings.  Now it’s starting to get tight on that bus connection to Glendive.
  • Land in Billings at approx. 5:45 pm (MT) on the only open runway at the Billings airport as the snow plows are feverishly working to clear the runaways and all other portions of the airport.  Appears to be 2 inches of heavy wet slushy snow.  Supposed to have been here at 3:15 pm (MT).  Passengers cheer that we made it to Billings.
  • Taxi to the jetway, stop plane, seatbelt light off, uh oh, jetway stuck by ice and snow.  Passengers will have to de-board from the front of the plane and walk through the snowy/slushy mess to the terminal.  Passengers with checked bags can get off first while those with plane side cart service must wait for their luggage to be brought from the back to the front of the plane before getting off.
  • Get to airport terminal and luggage area to wait for 1 checked bag.  Bag shows up on carousel as the last bag offloaded from inbound baggage cart.  It is now 6:10 pm (MT) and bus departure is 6:30 pm (MT).
  • Go outside terminal for Billings cab.  None to be seen.  Call cab company from inside terminal.  Taxi dispatcher says that they are 45 min. behind taxi requests.  Hang up.
  • Go back outside to scope out options.  Crowne Plaza shuttle van shows up.  Loads up and since I’m wearing my bright orange BNSF jacket and Amtrak cap and look important (?) I ask driver if he can take me down the hill from the airport as I’m going to the bus station.  Sure he says, hop in front.
  • Get to the Crown Plaza, first one out of van, $2 to the driver, grab bags and run to bus station where it is now 6:25 pm (MT).
  • Get bus ticket from Billings to Glendive and check 1 bag for 6:30 pm departure.  Inbound bus running slightly late so have some extra time to catch bus.  Inbound bus arrives.
  • Eventually board bus however, if you need to use the rest room, use the one in the bus terminal as the one on the bus is out of service.  Bus finally departs at 7:15 pm (MT).
  • Announcement made that upon arrival at Miles City, those going further east will have to change buses.  Westbound bus will turn around and go back to Fargo while this bus from Billings to Miles City, that would usually go onto Fargo, had to be turned around at Miles City and go back to Billings.  Checked luggage would be transferred.
  • West of Forsyth, call is made by bus driver to 7 Eleven at Forsyth to see whether or not there are any passengers waiting for the bus.  None waiting so bypass Forsyth and on to Miles City.
  • Between Forsyth and Miles City, bus driver receives call that the westbound bus is running late and just got out of North Dakota before icy roads and snow began settling in on Interstate 94.  Due to this fact, bus driver on westbound bus is not turning around to take his bus back to Fargo, ergo, the bus that I’m on is now ending at Miles City and will be turning around and going back to Billings.  The westbound bus will continue to Billings with the Fargo driver albeit late.
  • Again, checking my options in Miles City.  Ask driver if he can drop me off at the 4B’s Restaurant on the way out of town on the east end of Miles City.  Call Marilyn and ask her about weather and if she can make the trip from Glendive to Miles City to pick me up because I’m obviously not going back to Billings again as the balance of the bus passengers that didn’t get off at Miles City.  Driver agrees.
  • Dropped off at 4B’s at 9:40 pm (MT).  Restaurant closes at 10 pm.  Wait staff doesn’t mind me coming in at the last moment as I relay my trip to them from Seattle to Miles City.  Order up a meal.
  • Waiter notices my Amtrak cap and asks about train service to Cincinnati, OH.  Call and text chauffeur in Puyallup asking him for times and coach price for taking the Builder and Cardinal from Wolf Point to Cincinnati.  Tell waiter that I’m working on his request.  Says that I can stay in the restaurant until Marilyn shows up to pick me up.  Serving is done at 10 pm but there is clean up.
  • Get Amtrak information and give it, along with a NARP application and my business cards to waiter.  He is elated that I was able to come up with just this basic information during my dinner after hearing about my trip from hell.
  • Marilyn shows up at 10:40 pm and we head for Glendive.  Interstate 94 is wet and slushy in a few places but traffic is very light and we make it back to Glendive at 12 midnight (MT) after beginning my trip at 10 am (PT) in Puyallup.
  • Mon. morning, Mar. 4, snow and blizzard conditions in and around the Glendive area.  No travel advised on I-94.  Good thing that I didn’t overnight in Miles City expecting that Marilyn could drive and pick me up in Miles City this morning.