Indianapolis and Chicago are not that far apart. Still making the drive isn’t always that appealing. First there are the gas prices. Plus you have tolls, wear and tear on your car, construction, parking and city driving to contend with. There has to be an easier way! There is, and it is called Amtrak.
With Amtrak, no two journeys are alike. I had taken the train by myself several times, but I had never taken it with a group. That all changed this summer. My family decided to take the train from Indianapolis to Chicago for our last family vacation. We were taking the Hoosier State to Chicago and The Cardinal from Chicago.
The Cardinal runs from New York to Chicago three times a week. It is the only long distance train that stops in Indianapolis. On the days the Cardinal does not run, the Hoosier State covers the last leg of the route from Indy to Chicago.
We made our reservations, and made plans to arrive at the station bright and early. Getting five people up, dressed and out the door was harder than I expected. That got us to the station early, but not early enough. By the time we picked up our tickets, there was already a long line for the elevator. My father has had many surgeries on his foot, a stroke and he doesn’t see so well. This leads to stairs being a slight problem.
Since we couldn’t take the stairs to the platform, we waited in the long elevator line. For some reason, instead of letting those who may have difficulties board first, they loaded the people waiting for the elevator last. The loading nightmare had just begun. The conductor had blacked off the whole front half of the train. In the process, he hadn’t left enough seats. He also did not ask how many people were in each party. He just shuffled everyone aboard and hoped for the best.
By the time we got to the platform and on the train, there were no seats together. If we took the remaining seats, the people who boarded after us would have no where to sit. When we first tried to tell the conductor, he blew us off. He told us he would open up the rest of the train at later stops. I was finally able to tell him that not only did we have a family of five we were trying to put together, he had not left enough seats. Finally, he did open another row of seats. My family was able to sit together, and the rest of the passengers had places to sit as well.
The Hoosier State is really nothing more than a glorified commuter train. It is basically just one car. You can’t check your luggage. There isn’t even a snack car available. Since it is such a short trip, the on accommodations are coach seating. It is simple but functional. We arrived in Chicago on time, and we were ready to explore the city.
The return trip was a little different. I made sure we got to the station relatively early, and we secured a place near the front of the boarding line. I felt like I was flying on Southwest. Boarding seemed like one big cattle call. Once we made our way on to the platform, we were directed to a car. Your car assignment was based on your final destination. Once we boarded the train, we were easily able to secure seats.
The Cardinal is a long distance train. There is coach seating, sleeper cars, a snack car and other amenities available. The food is obscenely expensive. If you forget to eat before getting on the train, be prepared to shell out some cash. For the train ride to Indy, we opted to stick with coach seating.
A short time into the trip, the train stopped. No one knew why. I figured it was freight congestion. My biggest gripe with Amtrak is their lack of communication. This train ride proved my point once again. We are sitting on the tracks, and we haven’t moved for quite a while. No one has bothered to tell us why, or how long the anticipated delay will be. The only reason I found out it was because the police were coming to arrest a passenger was because my father heard that in the snack car. Even after we started going, no one bothered to apologize for the delay. No one updated us on our ETA. We ended up running over an hour late. Wouldn’t you think the company would let passengers know these things? Since we arrived home later, we were greeted by road blocks and barricades. An event in the city had gotten out of hand. Now we had to take the long way home.
I love Amtrak, but every trip seems to have an issue. Still I would rather hit the rails than drive myself. It is nice to be able to sit back and watch the scenery go by. You can nap, or even work on a lap top. It is so much more productive than your typical car ride. If you live in Indianapolis, you should at least give this a try once.