Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Freeway-free in California: Amtrak Falters, BART to the rescue

We are ready for the parting of our ways:  M and the trailer will return to Davis, where she will dive headfirst into the maelstrom of detail involved with selling a house and buying another, while I will catch a Capital Corridor train at Fairfield and spend a relaxing two hours reading, writing, admiring the scenery, and feeling sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.

First wrinkle:  There are now TWO Amtrak stations in Fairfield.  Our faithful GPS unerringly directs us to the new one, Fairfield – Vacaville.  I have been to the Fairfield station before it was re-labeled Suisun -Fairfield, and I am pretty sure this adobe “Transit Center” in the middle of a giant parking lot next to nothing at all is not it. 

Moments of panic –I check my ticket and realize the error.  Is this really a train stop?  Where are the tracks?  Will my ticket be good starting at a different station. Should we head off for the other station? Cooler heads prevail; I spot an underpass which leads toward the tracks, we trundle through and there are a couple of benches and a sign saying that the train I am scheduled to travel on will arrive in 15 minutes, and, most reassuringly, another passenger waiting. 

I hug M, “Wonderful trip!” and watch her pull out of the parking lot.  The train arrives as advertised, and the conductor doesn’t get around to our car to check my ticket until after we have arrived at and left Suisun Fairfield.  My only regret is the lack of a snack machine at the new station – I had counted on a candy bar to get me through to my Great America stop.  Rummaging through my tote bag, I find a forgotten granola bar.  All is well.

Until we get to Richmond.  We stop.  And stay.  An unintelligible announcement is made.  I get out and find a conductor in the next car.  “There’s damage to the tracks ahead.  We don’t know how long the delay will be.  Could be 45 minutes.  Could be two hours.”

I go back to my car, inform my fellow passengers, and we stare disconsolately out the window – at the sign that says “Take underpass for BART”.  The young woman across from me is distraught. “I’ve GOT to get to the Oakland Airport for a flight!  I allowed an extra hour but…”  

I look at the sign.  “There’s a BART stop at the Oakland Airport”, I tell her.  There is also a new BART station in Milpitas, not so much further from home than the Great America station.  We gather our bags and lead a parade of passengers to the BART station.

To our surprise and pleasure, a BART official is handy who tells us “We have an arrangement with Amtrak.  Just go through that turnstile there – no charge.”  A BART train arrives a few minutes later, I phone my Personal Travel Agent at home, he checks the route to the new station, and I settle down to read, write, admire the scenery, and feel sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.

Coda: The next day I get a standard email from Amtrak asking about my trip.  I grouse about the lack of signage at the new station and most particularly about the delay and poor communication about it.  The next day I receive another email from Amtrak giving me a voucher good for the value of my trip from Fairfield –Suisun to Great America.  They are trying!

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