Day 71: An Unscientific Analysis of Two Land Voyages

Today I am launching my first official competition between the Trans-Siberian Express (We took the Chinese-run portion of the Trans-Mongolian Express using TSE tracks from Bejing to Moscow at the end of July and the beginning of August–see posts if you missed them) and the American Amtrak system.

I consulted with my hubby and travel partner on the TME what criteria I should use. His response was
1. Food
2. Food
3. Food.

In my attempt to be neutral (ala Swiss) and to avoid any international incidents between Russia/China and the USA, I decided to establish more traditional criteria for judging each system’s merits:

1. On Time Record (TME evaluation will be based on flickering Memory)
2. Comfort (Bed strength, ability to rock a baby to sleep and keep them there; access to lights, camera, action; no annoying overhead PA system used at free will for the comfort of the system and not the passenger; and good padding and ergonomics for blogging.
3. Service (attentive staff, no back talk or attitude–i.e. Courteous; visible but not obtrusive; professional but not hollow friendly delivery of information)
4. Cleanliness(no spit on counters; toilet paper unfailingly in supply; Windows you can see through; stainless upholstery and carpets)
5. Food (real food; reasonable prices; no cheap shots using lots of salt and sugar; no bar codes on wrapping; cold beer; wine list; nuking; no plastic, polystyrene, or jewel boxes)

Gee Kin reluctantly added the first criteria for time after he realized his credibility and reputation were at stake. By then, I had already prepared my testing lab for forensic evidence.

To date, the qualitative analysis will incorporate the following:

Pros of the Trans Mongolian Express:
1. Decent food in the Russian dining car at reasonable price
2. Service in the sleeping car was very good and attentive by the two attendants assigned to our car (even though we and one other woman were the only passengers in the car after Ulan Bator!)
3. The compartment was tidy and toilet at the end of the car was adequate.

Cons for the Trans Mongolian Express (TME)
1. The tracks are not universal in Mongolia thereby requiring wheels to be changed on every car going between China and Russia through Mongolia
2. The trains do not have Internet access
3. The schedule and arrival times at any station were a mystery due to fluctuating time zones

Pros for Amtrak trains
1. The trains are very comfortable
2. The trains have Internet access
3. The information for time, stops and scenic opportunities is helpful

Cons for Amtrak
1. Service staff are surly
2. Stations are antiquated
3. Seating is not reserved

Here are a couple of pictures comparing the station interiors for starters.

Stay tuned for interim reports after the three upcoming long haul, overnight trips across the USA:
1. Washington DC to Chicago on the Capitol Ltd.;
2. Chicago to Santa Fe, New Mexico on the Southwest Chief;
3. Santa Fe to Los Angeles (continuation of the Southwest Chief), then the Coast Starlight train from LA to San Francisco.

The results will be a cliffhanger and won’t be finalized til after the end of my 80 days around the world, so stay tuned!

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