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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Amtrak -- Roundtrip from GRR to CHI

January 2012, Friday morning departure from GRR
The GRR Amtrak station is not staffed. Boarding documents can be printed from a kiosk, which is located in the entryway and accessible 24 hours. The inside waiting area opens at 6:30 AM, and bathrooms and limited seating are available inside. In the winter, this building is usually filled with passengers standing and sitting. I had to maneuver around many people to get to the restroom.

There are not many parking spots at the station either. There is an overflow lot kiddy corner across the street. We have, fortunately, been lucky enough to get a parking spot at the station every time we have taken the train. There always seems to be a lot of people coming and going in the morning, so if you don't find a spot right away, you might consider waiting a few minutes to see if anyone leaves. We have never found an empty spot upon arrival; however, someone has always departed right after we drove in. Since there is not much room inside the station, we opted to wait in our vehicle until the train arrived. You do not need to go through the waiting area to board the train.

The boarding process was quick and easy. Passengers were directed to different cars based on how many were in their party. We ended up in the front portion of the center car. The ride was smoother than I recalled from our last trip. The seats also appeared new. The cushions were different, there were different adjustment levers for reclining and a footrest, and the tray tables were larger with an indentation for a cup. Even though there was plenty of room, I was extremely uncomfortable before we arrived in Chicago. The seats were very hard on the bottom, and I found myself looking for reasons to stand up and move around. We rode in a different car with the older style seats for the return trip, so be sure and read how that compares below.

Our arrival time was scheduled for 10:33 AM Chicago time. We arrived about 15 minutes late, which has been typical every time we made this trip. Other than the uncomfortable cushion, the ride was uneventful and enjoyable.

January 2012, Saturday evening departure from CHI
The departure gate waiting area was not too bad--seating wise. I have been at this station for this trip when it was so crowded, that there was barely room for all the passengers to sit or stand. Amtrak does pre-boarding from Chicago for senior citizens (over 62), military, and Amtrak priority passengers. This is not real obvious. The sign by the entryway is small, and I could barely hear the announcement for boarding, even though I was seated very close to the announcer.

The boarding process went smoothly, and we were directed to different cars based on our destination. This time, we ended up in the back portion of the first car. So, we were directly through the connecting doorway, in front of where we had been seated for the trip to Chicago. The seats in this area were the older seats. They did not look old or grungy; I could only tell because the material was a darker color, and the features were not as updated. The seat reclining control was a round knob instead of a lever, and the tray table was smaller with no indentation for a beverage cup. The good thing about the older seats, is that they are more comfortable! I had no problem sitting for fours hours on the return trip, and I stood up to move around less than half as many times as I had on the trip to Chicago. We experienced a lot more motion seated in this area than we had on the way out. It felt like we were traveling faster, so the added movement may have been due to the speed, and the location where we were seated. Unless you have a problem with motion sickness, I don't expect the motion would be a problem.

I did not make note of our exact arrival time, although I'm sure it was on time. Every time we have been on the Amtrak when there was a delay, there has always been an announcement over the intercom. We departed Chicago a few minutes late--less than five minutes; however, the trip was uneventful after that, and the time stopped at each station for passengers to disembark was very quick.