I always wanted to write a travel blog. Well, not "always". Because I was around before blogs were invented. When I was your age, I had to walk two miles in the snow to send a postcard. But actually I would prefer not to walk, or drive, or fly...I like public transit. Thus ends the short introduction to my travel blog.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Smoke Stops

In April 2004 Amtrak banned smoking on all its trains, with the exception of the Auto Train, a long distance train that takes people and their vehicles from Virginia to Florida with no intermediate stops. Presumably the Auto Train is exempt because Amtrak knows that smoking passengers would not tolerate a total smoking ban for 17 1/2 hours. Prior to April 2004, long distance Superliner trains had a small lower level baggage room converted for use as a smoking lounge. They had all sort of rules and regulations: you could only be in there for 20 minutes at a time; no food or drinks allowd; no pipes or cigars etc. But for smokers, it was better than nothing.
Today the smoking lounges have been replaced by a system of "smoke stops". When the train stops for more than a couple of minutes at an "authorized location", passengers are permitted to step off for a smoke on the platform. Anxious smokers wait for hours between these breaks, and now one of the most frequent questions asked of conductors is, "When is the next smoke stop?"
Some routes like San Joaquin in Caifornia offer convenient breaks about once an hour. Some of the long distance trains have a less convenient smoke stop timetable.
Let's take a look at the smoke stops available on a recent trip aboard the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville, Ca.
1. Chicago. Well duh, you can grab a smoke before you board the train. And then,
5 hours until:
2. Mile 279 Ottumwa, Ia. This is a typical 3 minute break. Not really long enough to smoke even 1 cigarette.
3 1/2 hours until:
3. Mile 500 Omaha, Neb. You have at least 10 minutes here.
90 minuts until:
4. Mile 555 Lincoln, Neb. Another 10 minute stop (why are these two so close together when others are so far apart?)
6 1/2 hours to:
5. Mile 1038 Denver, Co. A typical 20 minute service stop for the train.
2 hours to:
6. Mile 1100 Winter Park, Co. This one is short.
4 hours to:
7. Mile 1223 Glenwood Springs. Short and sweet.
2 hours to:
8. Mile 1311 Grand Junction, Co. About 20 mins here.
7 hours to:
9. Mile 1608 Salt Lake City. Another 20 minute service stop.
7 hours to:
10. Mile 2013 Winnemucca, Nv. Brief.
3 1/2 hours to:
11. Mile 2202 Reno, Nv. About 5 mins.
6 hours to:
12. Mile 2367 Sacramento, Ca. About 5 mins
2 hours to:
13. Mile 2438 Emeryville, Ca. Now you are off the train and free to smoke.

The longest times with no smoking stops are 6 or 7 hours. But fortunately, the longest stretches are scheduled at night, so you'll probably be asleep anyway most of the time in places between Lincoln and Denver and between Grand Junction and Winnemucca.

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Dr. Richard S. Wallace formed the ALICE A. I. Foundation in 2001 to promote the development and adoption of Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML) and ALICE free software. Dr. Wallace has a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon.