Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

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Onboard Update

This message is posted from on board Amtrak 534, the eastbound Capitol headed for Sacramento, somewhere between Hayward and Oakland, courtesy of Opti-Fi onboard wireless. It turned out that one of the four wireless-equipped coaches in the Capitol fleet was on my train today, and as I was unable to snag one of the few single seats, I did the next-best thing and got an aisle seat on one of the tables, so there is enough room for me to start up the computer, and in the wireless car.

This is a different service provider than the last time I tried this a year or so ago. It's no longer free ($6.95/day, with monthly plans available), but OTOH this service seems more stable.

On the gripping hand, the speed is relatively slow -- probably a fast dial-up at best. That's not terribly surprising, I guess -- I have no idea how they get the connection from the moving train to the internet. The connection within the car is excellent. My connection to my company e-mail is very slow, but that probably shows just how bandwidth-intensive my company's webmail solution is.

I do wish there were curtains on the windows. It is a very bright, warm, sunny day here in the Bay Area, and the sun is shining so brightly that it's making it hard to see my screen.

I didn't really need this connection for this trip, but I'm glad to see that it does work, for future reference. I may even try opening up a VPN connection to my company's network just to see how stable it is.

There were a lot of people waiting to board at Centerville today, not surprisingly. The train was running around 15 minutes late, and took another delay when the engineer overshot the platform. The conductor had to get off, walk to the back of the train, where the engine is (this train is pushed to Sacramento and pulled toward San Jose), and "walked" it backward until there were doors lined up on the very short Platform 2 at Centerville.

Because the platform is so short, we can only board at one of the doors, rather than being able to open all eight doors (four coaches, two doors each). This further slows down loading. And it seemed like most of the people boarding were old or slow-moving. I finally got on board and manhandled my heavy luggage upstairs to the upper deck, where fortunately there was still room in the luggage racks. I quickly made a pass through the train and confirmed that there were no singles left and thus I headed back to the wi-fi car to stake out a seat there. The other three people at this table are all asleep, which is not a bad way to pass the time. Indeed, trains are just about the only form of transport on which I can easily fall asleep.

This train is very nearly full already, and we haven't reached Oakland yet -- Hayward and Coliseum passed while I was composing this. By the time we get to Emeryville and the bus connection from San Francisco, it's going to be completely jammed. I'd complain that they haven't put extra coaches on, but they really don't have much in the way of extra coaches to add. Back when they used the single-level Horizon coaches, they could borrow extra equipment from Caltrain -- although the bilevel commuter coaches are really uncomfortable for a 3-4-hour trip -- but when they put the "California" cars in service, they were no longer compatible.

Now we are approaching Oakland, and I've just seen the engineer (driver) leave his cab with his kit. I guess they change engineers here. This wi-fi coach is the "cab car" with a driving cab in it. Technically, it classes as a "locomotive" for regulatory purposes, even though it is not self-propelled, the power all coming from the real locomotive at the far end. Now two people have went into the cab. Unfortunately for railbuffs like me, they've left the curtain up over the window; otherwise, I could get the view forward.

Listening on my radio, I hear the crew asking back and forth if there are any seats in their part of the train. Looks like we've already run out of seats. Now we will start accumulating a lot of unhappy standees, who will probably take it out on the conductors trying to collect tickets. One of the conductors just made an announcement reminding people that buying a ticket does not guarantee a seat.

The conductor hasn't come round to lift my ticket yet. I presume they will eventually do so, possibly after Richmond when they get a few minutes to do so. This is probably the busiest day of the year for them, and I expect we also have the most-junior crews, everyone with sufficient seniority to do so having "marked off" to take their own holidays.

The normal schedule tends to assume nearly zero time to board/deboard the train, so on days like this, we just get later and later on account of the long delays getting so many people in and out of the train. Still, I'm not in a huge hurry, and I'm not stuck in a 30-mile traffic jam through Cordelia Junction. Things could definitely be worse. And I do have a seat.
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