OSSci on Rails 2024

As some here may recall, the OSSci team got to spent some quality time on Amtrak last year as we were making our way to SciPy 2023 in Austin, TX. Based on feedback, it was a bit too short notice for people to adjust their travel plans, but there was definitely interest in the idea of doing a meetup or unconference on a train.

This year, we’re starting our planning early! With SciPy 2024 just having been announced, we are exploring a second edition of OSSci on Rails.

The suggested route is Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Tacoma, WA (TAC), which takes about 33 hours on the Coast Starlight.

The departure date is up for grabs, probably July 7th or 8th.

We’d want a critical mass of folks committed to joining us before we announce it.

Let us know if you’re interested or would like to join the planning team.

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Just to be clear, participants could board anywhere along the route. As of this week, the itinerary looks something like this:

  • Los Angeles, CA - Union Station(LAX) - 9:51a
  • 10:14a | 10:18a - Van Nuys, CA (VNC)
  • 10:46a | 10:49a - Simi Valley, CA (SIM)
  • 11:18a | 11:22a - Oxnard, CA (OXN)
  • 12:14p | 12:21p - Santa Barbara, CA - Amtrak Station (SBA)
  • 2:52p | 3:05p - San Luis Obispo, CA - Amtrak Station (SLO)
  • 4:13p | 4:15p - Paso Robles, CA (PRB)
  • 6:10p | 6:13p - Salinas, CA - Amtrak Station (SNS)
  • 7:46p | 7:58p - San Jose, CA - Diridon Station (SJC)
  • 9:06p | 9:21p - Oakland, CA - Jack London Square Station (OKJ)
  • 9:31p | 9:41p - Emeryville, CA (EMY)
  • 10:14p | 10:26p - Martinez, CA (MTZ)
  • 11:11p | 11:11p - Davis, CA (DAV)
  • 11:49p | 11:49p - Sacramento, CA - Sacramento Valley Station (SAC)
  • 1:37a | 1:37a - Chico, CA (CIC)
  • 3:05a | 3:05a - Redding, CA - Amtrak Station (RDD)
  • 4:58a | 4:58a - Dunsmuir, CA (DUN)
  • 7:33a | 7:43a - Klamath Falls, OR (KFS)
  • 8:59a | 8:59a - Chemult, OR (CMO)
  • 12:29p | 12:37p - Eugene, OR - Amtrak Station (EUG)
  • 1:20p | 1:23p - Albany, OR (ALY)
  • 2:01p | 2:04p - Salem, OR - Amtrak Station (SLM)
  • 3:40p | 3:56p - Portland, OR - Union Station (PDX)
  • 4:13p | 4:16p - Vancouver, WA (VAN)
  • 4:48p | 4:51p - Kelso-Longview, WA (KEL)
  • 5:33p | 5:36p - Centralia, WA (CTL)
  • 5:59p | 6:01p - Olympia-Lacey, WA (OLW)
  • Tacoma, WA - Amtrak Station (TAC) - 6:38p

This is a great idea. I’d love to join on the train if I go to SciPy this year (75% likely).

I had my bachelor party on this exact route in 2023 so group logistics are fresh on my mind. A few points that may be relevant for this trip:

  • Most people won’t sleep well on a train. That’s an expected part of the experience and they’ll have a good time anyway.
  • Coach for 30+ hours would be kinda miserable, so I’d suggest roomettes
  • At current prices (which will increase as the train books up), roomettes split between two people would come to $450ish per person for the whole LA → Tacoma route (this includes meals, but with customary tips might be better approximated as $500). If getting an individual roomette, it’d be about $750 per person with tips.
  • Since covid, coach+business passengers have not been allowed into the half of the train with the dining and sleeper cars. They’re allowed in the half of the train with the coach seating, business seating, and observation/cafe cars.
  • It’s hard to find a place for 4+ people to comfortably socialize on the train. With some luck it’s possible to get a few seats together in the observation car/cafe, but even in the best case this won’t put more than 8 people together (if you get two tables in the cafe, and even then folks will be talking across an aisle/over their shoulders)
  • On my trip, we got two adjoining bedrooms and opened up the wall in between them. This must be specifically requested when booking. This gave us a space that was pretty nice for 6 people to socialize, but it was pricey and it meant that the people in the bedrooms didn’t have any personal space during the day.
  • The train is not-infrequently 5+ hours delayed, and on occasion is cancelled altogether, so folks should be ready with a plan B. Amtrak will usually offer something insane to fulfill their end of the contract (like a bus from LA to Tacoma), but in that scenario folks might be better off finding a last-minute flight.
  • The regular Amtrak booking system doesn’t generally offer discounts for group bookings. One trick I learned is that Amtrak Vacations may offer a different price, so it’s good to try both. I think Amtrak Vacations offers good discounts when you include other things like a rental car or hotel on some end of the trip.

So generally, I think the best way to plan would be to collect a list of folks who are potentially interested and help connect them up to each other, but have them do their own bookings. Overnight train trips are generally a really enjoyable and unique experience, but it’s unlikely that folks will get their employers to fully pay for it, so it’s good to be upfront about the experience so they know what to expect. I’m happy to provide more advice or answer questions as planning moves ahead, and would love to join this group if I end up attending this year!

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Thanks! I contacted Amtrak last week to learn about group options etc. but haven’t heard back.

FYI, this won’t be happening this year due to timing issues (I won’t be in the US to lead it). We’ll keep the idea in the back of our heads for another time.