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Jeffersonville greets new overnight Amtrak line
www.trainweb.com/routes/route_850/1999l19d.html

200 turn out to welcome Kentucky Cardinal train on first trip from Chicago.

Reprinted with permission from Chris Poynter of The Courier-Journal.

CHRIS POYNTER, The Courier-Journal

Dateline: ABOARD AMTRAK, FROM CHICAGO

When Julie Mical was a teen-ager in the 1970s, she'd catch the train from Chicago to Louisville and spend the weekend with her grandmother.

When Amtrak cut the service in 1979 to save money, she was heartbroken.

Yesterday morning, she and her husband, Ron, were among some 30 passengers ( most of them railroad enthusiasts and Amtrak officials ) aboard the new Kentucky Cardinal when it rolled into Jeffersonville, Ind., breaking through a paper banner to bring passenger train service to the metropolitan area for the first time in 20 years.

Passenger trains stopped visiting the area on Oct. 8, 1979, when Amtrak's Floridian was eliminated.

As the riders stepped off the Cardinal's coach car and two sleepers at about 8:40 a.m., they were greeted by 200 people cheering, recording video and snapping pictures. Some in the crowd had followed the train on the highway in cars and trucks when it crossed into Clark County.

Amtrak officials are betting that consumer demand for future trips will justify the route's renewal. Prior to yesterday's trip aboard the Cardinal, a bus had been taking passengers from Louisville to Indianapolis to catch the train to Chicago. Between 12 and 42 people were picked up daily on the bus route, said Ed Ellis, Amtrak vice president.

To many people, traveling by train is slow and outdated.

But the Micals savor the rail because they said it's romantic and less stressful than flying or driving. They've taken trains across America, learned to endure the shakes and tosses, and pass the hours by meeting other passengers, playing games and reading.

Friday night, the Micals celebrated the inaugural trip to Louisville in their deluxe sleeper compartment (about the size of a small walk-in closet) with a bottle of Turning Leaf red wine, which they carried aboard the train.

Ron Mical said some may find it silly to spend 12 hours on the Cardinal when a plane ride from Louisville to Chicago lasts less than an hour and costs roughly the same, sometimes less. But he and his wife appreciate seeing America's beauty, from towns to cities, flatlands to mountains.

"You're not just flying over it," she said. "You're in it."

The crawl to Louisville began at 8:10 p.m. Friday, when the shiny gray GE Diesel Electric Locomotive emerged from the bowels of Chicago's historic Union Station and into the night, where the city's first snow of the season glistened beneath lamp posts near the route.

Ray Burns, a train enthusiast from California who runs trainweb.com, an Internet site devoted to train travel, was among the first to board the 116-passenger train, taking a seat in his economy sleeper.

As the train rocked gently, Burns discussed the virtues of train travel in an age when people squeeze themselves aboard jets and run frazzled from one airport terminal to another.

"The thing is to relax," he said, leaning back in his padded chair that transforms into a bed.

On Friday's ride, there was plenty of time to relax.

Before a couple of Amtrak attendants could serve passengers a complimentary cup of champagne, the train stopped at 81st street on Chicago's south side.

It sat for 45 minutes, waiting on other rail traffic before moving again, stopping again, then moving and stopping. The locomotive was stalled so many times by other trains that it was about two hours late to its first destination: Dyer, Ind., just 25 miles southeast of Chicago. The conductor apologized to the passengers numerous times over the public address system. Since Amtrak doesn't own the rails on which it rides, other trains, including those carrying freight, sometimes get priority. The Cardinal, too, will be hauling freight for businesses and mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

THE KENTUCKY Cardinal has no dining car but it does offer some box dinners to people in the sleeping compartments : tuna and crackers, an apple and a brownie, among other things. Folks in the sleepers also have their choice of beverage : bottled water, sodas or coffee.

By 11:30 p.m., the Cardinal had finally reached its first stop at Dyer, and most passengers were preparing to sleep. An attendant walked from sleeper car to sleeper car, helping people transform their seats into pullout beds. The sleepers also have beds that drop from the ceiling, complete with seat belts that strap across the body so passengers won't fall out as the train rocks.

In the coach section, riders, including several Navy sailors heading home to Indianapolis for the holidays, were sprawled across empty seats.

Most people in the coach section deboarded in the middle of the night during one of four stops. A few people who couldn't sleep read books and magazines.

AT MIDNIGHT, the train was quiet, except for the sounds of pistons releasing steam and occasional blasts of the horn when the Cardinal neared intersections.

Daylight, with assistance from the horn and pistons, roused people back to life later that morning.

Around 8 a.m., the Micals changed out of their pajamas. Julie Mical left the room, walking into the hallway to grab a cup of steaming coffee prepared by a train attendant. They later brushed their teeth in their private washroom, then gazed out the compartment window as the farmland became dense with the houses of Jeffersonville, dressed in Christmas decorations.

At times, traffic along the roads parallel to the Kentucky Cardinal's route on the old Louisville and Indiana Railroad tracks moved faster than the train, which between Indianapolis and Jeffersonville can reach speeds of only 30 mph because the track is old.

JEFFERSONVILLE IS just one of several new or planned routes for Amtrak, created by the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970. The company recently added service in Oklahoma City and will expand next year into Las Vegas, said Ellis, the Amtrak vice president, who was on board the Cardinal's inaugural trip. Ellis was born and raised in Paducah, and he and his mother often rode trains during vacations.

It's all about money : how can Amtrak make enough money to cover its operating costs?" he said.

The Chicago-Jeffersonville route will be leaving the Windy City at 8:10 each evening and arrive in the Louisville area at 8:40 the next morning.

The northbound train will depart Jeffersonville at 10:25 p.m. and arrive in Chicago the next morning at 10:05.

When passengers disembarked the train yesterday at 8:40 a.m., the awaiting crowd of 200 cheered.

Elected leaders from Louisville and Jeffersonville lauded the Cardinal during a brief ceremony in the brisk air.

"This is a great day for the area, the community," Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan said, standing in front of the train. "This is going to connect Jeffersonville with the rest of the world."


[PHOTO NOT INCLUDED]
Caption: BY MICHAEL CLEVENGER, THE COURIER-JOURNAL
Hundreds greeted the Kentucky Cardinal in Jeffersonville yesterday. The train left Chicago at 8:10 p.m. Friday and arrived at 8:40 a.m. yesterday. "This is going to connect Jeffersonville with the rest of the world," Mayor Tom Galligan said.


[PHOTO NOT INCLUDED]
Caption: Passenger Chris Weiss of Chicago read a novel in her sleeper compartment aboard the Kentucky Cardinal.


[PHOTO NOT INCLUDED]
Caption: Ron and Julie Mical of Chicago say that even though it takes longer, train travel is more fun than flying or driving. "You're not just flying over (the land)," Julie Mical said. "You're in it."


[PHOTO NOT INCLUDED]
Caption: BY MICHAEL CLEVENGER, THE COURIER-JOURNAL
Train enthusiast Dan Smith of Indianapolis tracked the progress of the southbound Kentucky Cardinal with a Global Positioning System box.


[IMAGE NOT INCLUDED]
Caption: MAP BY WES KENDALL, THE C-J MAP SHOWING THE NEW AMTRAK ROUTE (SEE LIBRARY MICROFILM)

Copyright 1999 The Courier-Journal


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