The following is the travelogue of the round-trip rail journey of Steve Grande and Ray Burns from the TrainWeb office in Fullerton, California, to the Amtrak Historical Society Conference at the Amtrak Auto Train Northern Terminal in Lorton, Virginia. Photos are provided for both the rail journey and of the events at the Amtrak Historical Society Conference, including photos of the Auto Train facility.
Southwest Chief (Eastbound)
Tuesday, April 25, 2000
The weather was beautiful as we departed from the Amtrak Station at the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot on Monday night. It was neither too cool nor too warm. Shivam Surve was there to see Ray Burns and I off.
I knew that our train would probably be right on time when they scheduled the northbound Amtrak San Diegan onto Track 2 instead of the normal Track 1. Because of the large number of people that board the Amtrak Southwest Chief and the large amount of checked baggage that needs to be loaded, they always try to put the Amtrak Southwest Chief onto Track 1 closest to the station. If the northbound Amtrak San Diegan will be arriving near the same time, then they will switch that train over to Track 2 as happened this time.
Our Car Attendant's name was Carol. So far, she seems to be a very good Car Attendant. On our way up to our room, we noticed in the refreshment area of our sleeping car that there was coffee brewed, pretzels, fruit, ice, and a lot of soft drinks and juices! Carol then let us know that we were welcome to go to the Dining Car for a late supper as soon as our tickets are collected by the Conductor. I hadn't eaten anything all day except for a sandwich at lunch time, so that is where we headed!
I went for the Penne Pasta which seemed to be the lightest item on the menu. Ray went for some type of beef entre which he regretted later, being so late in the day. My only regret was that I should have stopped at this first glass of red wine instead of going for the second! I felt just a bit of a hangover in the morning.
Even though this is a Superliner I Sleeping Car and it has not gone through a refurbishing lately, it is in excellent shape anyway! The decor is still orange, red and brown and green in the restrooms. Everything seems to be in working order and the latches to the restroom doors work well. I suspect this car might have been one of the last to go through a refurbishing before they started changing the decor as part of the refurbishing process.
The walls and surfaces of two restrooms that I used did not look scratched or worn as they usually become over the years, but they were still the original avocado green that was so popular in the 1970's!
One thing that did show wear was the rubber seal around the edge of the toilet unit. I guess the rubber seal is to prevent moisture from getting between the toilet unit and the wall of the restroom and probably also prevents the toilet unit from rattling against the wall. In the refurbishing process, a liquid sealant was applied over the rubber seal. The substance looked similar to what is used to repair a leaky aquarium. The sealant does not work at all. They really needed to replace the original rubber seal. As the train moves, the toilet, along with everything else on the train, shakes in a very minor way. The rubber seal is able to accommodate the shaking and maintain the seal between the toilet unit and the wall. The sealant, however, could not remain attached to both the wall and the toilet during the frequent minor vibrations of the train. Thus, the sealant had broken away from the wall of the restroom leaving a space between the toilet unit and the wall. Best bet would be to just replace the rubber seal as originally designed.
All during the night and much of the morning the train had been operating about 30 minutes behind schedule. You could tell this engineer was really trying to make up the time as the train was constantly going quite fast and we were subjected to a lot more vibration and swaying than is normal on a train. For most of my trips on the Amtrak Southwest Chief, the ride has been fairly smooth. It's usually a bit rougher on the parts of the journey that are not on continuous welded rail, but not annoyingly rougher. But, when the engineer pours it on to make up time, that can add to the jostling! Before I scare some of you away that have never taken a train, even at its worst, the shaking on a train is very minor. I've never seen the train shake enough to knock over a wine glass in the Dining Car, so you can imagine how minor the shaking is that I am talking about. If the train is going extra fast and experiencing more shaking than usual, you won't spill your drink, but it could be a bit annoying if you are trying to write on a pad of paper!
It looks like that extra speed paid off as we arrived into Albuquerque, New Mexico, almost 30 minutes early even though we had been almost 30 minutes behind schedule! This gave me plenty of time to jot down all the numbers of all the cars and take a number of photographs around the Albuquerque Station. This is one of the longest Amtrak Southwest Chief trainsets that I think I have ever been on! This train has 15 Roadrailer truck units, 3 freight cars, 7 passenger cars, 1 crew car, 1 baggage car and 4 locomotives! The list of cars and numbers can be found below.
Ray and I had two things that we wanted to do at the Albuquerque stop: (1) Get photos and the contact information of the people that operate the orange bus and the food truck, and (2) buy some of the best burritos in the southwest from the truck to eat on the train!
When you ride the Amtrak Southwest Chief and need some supplies that they don't carry in the Cafe Car, you will most likely find what you need at "Cheryl's Bustore!" She has film, batteries, cigarettes, toiletries, plus an assortment of T-shirts and souveneirs. When the train stops at Albuquerque, just look out the train window for the orange schoolbus! Step onboard the bus to view the selection of merchandise.
If you like Mexican or southwest food, I'd strongly suggest that you purchase a burrito from the lunch wagon that you will find in the parking lot at the Albuquerque Station. Many people have commented that they make the best burritos anywhere and I have to agree with those opinions. A small selection of various types of beef, bean and chicken burritos are available with either potato or Spanish rice. Some are "hot" (spicy) and some are not. If you like the spicy ones, then get over to the truck right away as those are the first to sell out! Even if you are in a Sleeping Car with your meals included in the price of your ticket, I'd recommend skipping lunch in the Dining Car and enjoying one of the best burritos in the southwest: homemade, fresh and hot! That is what we did!
A special note: It appears that Amtrak has gone back to attempting to wash the windows during the Albuquerque servicing stop! We saw two men in yellow hats with a bucket, a squeegee, and an extension pole, washing the windows of the train! I've been told that they used to use special washing equipment for many years in Albuquerque to wash the windows of the train. However, they were stopped from doing that by the EPA since they did not have the proper drainage to handle the water runoff from this operation. They do have the proper drainage setup in Los Angeles and Chicago, but the windows can get pretty dirty in between those two ends of the line! So, for many years, they just didn't wash the windows enroute at all. Going back to this more manual method of washing the windows will get the windows clean without creating the problem of the water runoff that the more automatic equipment creates.
Carol continues to prove herself as an excellent Car Attendant! Take last night, for example. Ray and I pulled the call button for the Car Attendant to have our beds put down. Carol showed up in less than one minute! Everytime I go by the refreshment area of our Sleeping Car, there is coffee available and there is also plenty of cream to put in the coffee. She must fill up the cup every time she sees it running low. I have also noticed a supply of orange juice and cranberry juice on ice and a jar of pretzels at the refreshment area. Across from the Sleeping Car stairs she also keeps a full bucket of ice available. Whenever I use a restroom, I have also noticed that it is all cleaned up. Not only is the counter and mirror clean of splashed water, but even the bowl of the sink is free of splashed water! I'm sure she isn't able to clean up the bathroom between every use, but she must be doing it quite often. Either that or there are a lot of passengers on the train like myself that try to leave the bathroom as clean as possible for the next patron. The supply of soft drinks on top of the refreshment area also seems endless. The soft drinks are in small bottles and there seems to be a good assortment of both diet and non-diet beverages as well as quite a few bottles of water. I noticed that there is a supply of these drinks downstairs to replenish the upstairs supply as they run out. Often I've also seen Carol put out grapes, sliced oranges and other fruit for her passengers.
Wednesday, April 26, 2000
We departed Kansas City on time at 8:05 AM. From time to time, the train would be running about 20 minutes behind schedule, but we always seem to make the time up. The train is not shaking as much as it has since the start of this trip. I haven't had a chance to check it yet, but I'd bet we dropped off some of our Roadrailer Express Freight Cars in Kansas City. I've been told that a passenger train rides rougher when it is hauling freight cars. I'm all in favor of Amtrak hauling express freight cars to help offset its cost of operations and keep the trains financially viable, but I guess we have to accept a bit rougher ride as a consequence. I don't want to disuede any readers from travel by train. So, keep in mind, when I say a "bit rougher," I'm talking about something that is more noticeable and not something that is unbearable.
In Kansas City there were 9 copies of the Kansas City Star local newspaper placed in our car. That wasn't enough to give each passenger in our car their own copy. So, Carol requested that passengers please put the papers back on top of the refreshment area when they were finished reading them to share with other passengers. She also made an announcement that "USA Today" newspapers have not been placed on the train along the route for the last five weeks, but that we did have these local newspapers instead. Carol seemed to be a bit disturbed that there were not enough newspapers delivered for everyone and that we were getting a local newspaper instead of the national newspaper. Personally, I'd rather get the local than the national. Seeing the local news and what is happening in each community along the route adds to the trip a unique flavor which you will not get by flying to your destination. I think the ability to read local newspapers along the route should be promoted as something special to a train trip that you won't experience if you fly to your destination.
There are a number of things that are unique to train travel which I think that Amtrak should pay strong attention to and promote those differences from other modes of travel. During the 1970's, airline travel was growing at a tremendous pace and was looked at as modern and the way of the future. Unfortunately, thinking that this modern mode of transportation is what people wanted, Amtrak tried to make train travel as similar to airline travel as possible. The Amfleet cars were designed to emulate the streamline tubular body of aircraft and even included smaller windows! Pre-packaged microwavable airline type meals were introduced on the train. Modern drop ceilings were installed into historic train stations along with molded plastic seats identical to those found at most airports.
People liked planes because they could get to their destination faster. Just because people migrated to flying did not mean they liked every aspect of airline travel over what train travel had to offer. We now know that for sure with all the recent surveys showing massive dissatisfaction that the public now has for airline travel. The public still travels by plane as much as, if not more than ever, but they are not happy about the experience.
Fortunately, Amtrak is no longer trying to make the rail travel experience as similar as possible to the plane travel experience. There is once again an emphasis on those aspects of train travel that were historically superior to plane travel. Amtrak needs to continue to focus and promote those aspects of travel that are unique to the train and cannot be replicated by plane travel.
The newest passenger cars to be built emphasize the roominess of the railcars, and special care has been taken to eliminate obstructions from the interior view. For example, in the Amtrak California Cars and the Amtrak Surfliner Cars, the windows are very large. Most interior walls are made out of a clear plastic substance. Being able to see throughout most of the car from every seat in the car makes the car feel very open and roomy. Not only can you see out the window where you are sitting, but you can look around and see out most of the other windows of the train! There is also plenty of room to get up and walk around, which you cannot say for most airplanes.
The adoption of the Spanish Talgo design for two of Amtrak's services (Amtrak Cascades and Amtrak Las Vegas Service) also indicate Amtrak's intention to provide passengers with comfort and features not possible on airlines. The Talgo is much more of a boxy design than the tubular Amfleet cars. This boxiness maximizes the interior space giving you the feeling you are in a large comfortable lounge. Gone is the cramped feeling that is common to being in the tubular body of most airlines and the Amfleet cars. Like the other new Amtrak passenger cars, the Talgos also feature oversized windows. Windows should always be as large as possible on trains since the view of the scenery is one of the major attractions to travel by train.
The experiment with airline food was short lived, though it does raise its head now and then in circumstances where it is difficult to provide full dining service. Most long distance Amtrak trains do provide full Dining Car service with most of the meal freshly prepared onboard the train by a chef in the galley. Try that on an airline or even a bus!
Although there are a number of new station buildings that feature a modern design, many of the older stations are being restored to their former grandeur. Drop ceilings are being ripped out to reveal the original splendor of the high arched interiors. Having been neglected for so many years, most of these historic stations require quite a bit of time and funds to restore them to their former elegance. Seats and benches, often crafted from fine wood, are replacing the plastic chairs. Original furniture has often been able to be located in storerooms and been able to be restored and placed back into the stations. Where it has not been feasible to restore these historic buildings to the exact original design, effort has been made to rebuild them in a manner consistent with the heyday of rail travel. These endeavors definitely help to differentiate rail travel from plane travel. After restoration, these stations become living testaments to our railroad heritage. They provide passengers with greater enjoyment of their rail experience as well as an awareness and appreciation of the history of rail travel.
Back to the original topic, I see placing the local newspaper from cities along the way onto the train as one more advantage and unique experience of train travel. I'd like to see Amtrak continue to seek out ways in which rail travel has unique advantages over other modes of travel. Those differences should be emphasized rather than eliminated, and then these differences should be promoted to attract and keep new train riding patrons.
I'll get off my soapbox now!
I have noticed a number of historic station buildings along the route between Kansas City and Chicago where Amtrak no longer stops.
The train arrived into Chicago early at about 3:15 PM. Ray and I had been debating about what to do with our layover in Chicago of 4 hours and 30 minutes. Our first thought was to maybe take in a movie. Unlike the Washington, DC Amtrak Station, there is not a movie theater right in the station and we would have to figure out where a nearby theater is located. It was a very clear day in Chicago. That gave me the idea that maybe we should go up on the observation deck of the Sears Tower. I had tried to do that a couple of times previously, but one time it was heavily overcast and the other time I did not have enough time before the departure of my train. Thus, I have yet to go up in the Sears tower! Ray and I had been fascinated watching the architecture of the homes and the various types of neighborhoods between Naperville and Chicago. I asked Ray if he would be interested in taking the local Chicago Metra train out on another line to take a look at some other Chicago neighborhoods. We both decided to take a ride on the Metra to get more of a flavor of the surrounds of Chicago along their rail system!
Once the train arrived into the Chicago station, we headed straight for the Metropolitan Lounge with our luggage. We checked into the lounge, obtained our boarding pass, and were then directed to take our "carry-on" luggage down the hall to have it stored by a Red Cap in a special room set up for this purpose. This was the first time that I had encountered this procedure! In all my past trips through Chicago, passengers were told to place their carry-on luggage in a storage area right next to the Metropolitan Lounge check-in desk. If that was overflowing with luggage, then they would set up a roped-off area right in the lounge. They did not allow you to bring your luggage into the lounge, except for maybe a backpack or briefcase. They wanted to make sure there would be plenty of room for the people in the lounge and to keep the floor clear of luggage. In addition to directing us down the hall to the room to check our luggage, they also told us to be back by 7:15pm to get ready for the 7:45pm departure of our train.
We took our luggage down the hall to the indicated room. There we found a short line of other Sleeping Car passengers also checking in their carry-on luggage. We checked in our two bags and were given a claim receipt. The Red Cap reminded us to return by 7:15pm to pick up our carry-on bags. Actually, I like this procedure a lot more than when we used to have our luggage on a shelf or a roped-off area near the Metropolitan Lounge check-in desk. I'd often have valuable computer or camera equipment in my luggage and I did not feel comfortable leaving it unattended for hours as I wandered about Chicago. Thus, I would often pay for a coin locker to store my luggage so that I knew it would be safely locked up while I was away from the station.
Having been through the Chicago station many times before, I knew exactly where to go to find out about the Metra trains and to purchase our tickets. We went directly to the Metra Departures board to see what trains might be leaving shortly. The next train out was leaving in just 5 minutes at 3:35 pm for Big Timber (just beyond Elgin). The train would arrive into Big Timber at about 5pm and would then begin its return trip at 5:10pm to arrive back into the Chicago station at about 6:30pm. That would be ideal if we had enough time to purchase our ticket and get onto the train on time!
We went to a Metra ticket window were there was a very short line. I asked how much it would be for two round-trip tickets to Big Timber. I could swear she said $9, but maybe that was $9 each. Whichever it was, that seemed pretty inexpensive for a 3 hour ride using the Los Angeles Metrolink fares as a comparison. We almost ran for the train, but had enough time to head half way up and board a middle car in the long commuter train. I forgot that 3:35 pm would be the start of the home commute! The train was packed! Ray and I could not even find 2 seats together. Thus, for a while we stood in the vestibule area. Eventually two seats together openned up and we sat down to enjoy the rest of our ride. After about an hour, some seats openned up in the balcony and we moved upstairs.
We rode the train all the way to the end of the line in Big Timber. There was a small station building under construction at Big Timber. We took a few photographs of sites along the way that you can see in the sets of photographs below. We got off the train to get a few shots of the Metra train itself. Then, we reboarded the train and sat up in the gallery for the ride home. Only a few people got on at Big Timber, but the train was packed full again by the time it got back to Chicago!
Capitol Limited (Eastbound)
Once we got back to Chicago, it was about 6:30 P.M. Ray and I did not want to eat late and we knew that the first seating for dinner on the train would not be served until at least 8:00 P.M. We did not wish to eat that late, so we decided to grab something in the Chicago station. We went upstairs and each had a deep-dish personal pizza. Ray did not think the pizzas on display looked very good, but he changed his mind about the pizza once he started eating it! Ray thought the pizza was very good, and said that it certainly tasted a lot better than it looked! We finished eating at 7:10 P.M., just in time to go downstairs and pick up our luggage!
We got our luggage and rolled it to the boarding gate for our train. Some people requested Red Cap help and were the first to board the train. If you want to board the train ahead of everyone, just ask for assistance from the Red Caps and you will be escorted to the train before everyone else! Just be sure to give a tip to the Red Caps for their help with your luggage.
There seemed to be a long line waiting to board the train. But, suddenly, a staff member went to a different gate number and announced that sleeping car passengers should follow her. We were in line right in front of the gate that she opened when she made the announcement. Thus, we were some of the first to head out that gate to our Sleeping Car!
We boarded the 3000 car, which as I had guessed, was the exact same car as we were in on the Amtrak Southwest Chief. Usually, the Southwest Chief turns into the Capitol Limited in Chicago and visa versa. But, they don't tell this to the passengers and they don't let you stay on the train during your layover. You are not even allowed to leave your luggage on the train. One reason that you cannot leave anything on the train is that they usually swap one set each week to put that set in for servicing. That did not happen this time and most of the cars of this trainset were the same cars used on the Amtrak Southwest Chief trainset that we had just taken from Fullerton to here!
A couple of years ago, they used to let you stay on the train in your room if you wished to do so during the long layover. They programmed the computer to try to keep you in the same room if you are traveling through Chicago. Even though you are no longer allowed to stay in your room, they never modified the computer program. Thus, Ray and I ended up back in the exact same Standard Sleeping Car Room that we had left earlier in the day! The channel selector was still on Channel 4 where I had left it and the window still had the odd shaped scratch that had given me problems when trying to take some photographs out the window!
The Capitol Limited departed from Chicago on time at 7:45 P.M., but stopped in the yard for a short while to add some express cars to the end of the train.
We arrived into Toledo, Ohio a bit early, about 1:15 AM instead of 1:24 AM. That gave me a chance to get out and check the numbers on the cars. It is the same trainset that we had on the Amtrak Southwest Chief except that the first two engines have been taken off along with the express freight cars. They've added some new express freight cars to this train, but nowhere near as many as what they took off! I was not able to get the numbers on the express freight cars as they were beyond a barrier in the station.
After I walked along the platform to the front of the train and back, I found that all of the doors to the train had been shut! I recognized my Car Attendant on the platform, so I figured the train would not leave without him. I decided to just wait until he got back onto the train. Eventually, he opened the door and went in. I stepped in behind him as he almost shut the door on me! As soon as he saw me step in, he said: "I thought you were in my car!"
Shortly after I returned to my room, the train made a number of forward and backward movements. I wasn't sure if we were taking off some of the express freight cars, adding more on, or both! As the train moved forward, I saw Jeff Kocar on the platform, President of the Amtrak Historical Society! Right now, I'm not sure if he is a passenger on the train or is working the train. I remember in a previous e-mail to me that he had mentioned that he had gone back to work for Amtrak in some on-board capacity. As we passed by Jeff again on the platform, Ray knocked on the window and Jeff saw us. If he is on this train, which I am pretty sure that he is, I'm sure we'll see him again sometime before we reach Washington, D.C.
Thursday, April 27, 2000
We didn't get to sleep until about 2:30 A.M. Accidentally, I had the P.A. volume at maximum and an announcement was made for breakfast at 6:45 A.M.! That woke Ray and I up! Off and on I dozed off for the next hour and fifteen minutes, but there was no hope of getting several hours more sleep and making up for the sleep that we missed by staying up to 2:30 AM!
When I stood up, the train swayed a bit and I braced myself against the sliding door to our room. That sudden pressure pushed the door off its track. I guess there is a problem with our door as that is the second time it has come of the track during this trip. It doesn't seem to be hard to get it back onto the track if you know how to do it!
Ray and I went to breakfast. We sat with another person who was traveling to the national NARP meeting in Washington, D.C. He had found out about the Amtrak Historical Society being held nearby from the TrainWeb.com website and was now planning to try to attend both meetings. Kirk Schneider, who wrote "California by Bus, Train and Ferry" and who was recently elected as a NARP Director from our region, is also planning to attend both NARP and the Amtrak Historical Society conference. Jeff Kocar mentioned last night that Dorris Briggs, another NARP Director from our region, was on yesterday's Amtrak Capitol Limited. I'm sure she will be attending the NARP meeting, but I don't know if she will get a chance to stop by the Amtrak Historical Society conference. Dorris did attend the AHS Conference in 1998 that was held in Jack London Square in Oakland, California.
In any case, the breakfast was quite good, as was the conversation since it was all about Amtrak and rail travel! The scenery along this part of the Amtrak Capitol Limited route is also outstanding and added to the enjoyment of breakfast. Our dining table was on the south side of the train where most of the scenery is on this route. Unfortunately, our room is on the north side of the train and we will not be able to see as much of the scenery from our room. This is an ideal route to have either a Deluxe Room, a Family Room or the Handicapped Room which allow you to see out either side of the train without another bedroom across from you. We could go to the Superliner Sightseer Lounge Car, but getting some work done is more important to me than the superior view on the south side of the train. I still have a great view out my window while working on my laptop, just not as good a view as out the south side of the train.
Friday & Saturday, April 28 & 29, 2000
Sunday, April 30, 2000
After getting up and having breakfast at the hotel, Ray and I checked out and took a taxi to the Springfield Metro Station which is at the end of the Blue Line. We took that train to Metro Plaza where we changed to the Red Line train. The Red Line train took us 3 stops to Union Station. We made our way upstairs and into the Amtrak Station.
We went directly to the Metropolitan Lounge to store our carry-on luggage. As we were checking in, we were shocked when the receptionist told us that the Capitol Limited had been cancelled! She told us to go across the hall to Customer Service where they would make alternate arrangements for us.
There were a number of passengers in the Customer Service office, most with a similar problem to ours. We were several hours early for the departure of our train. This room would probably become jammed with people and a line would form out the door and around the corner around 3 or 4 P.M. when the bulk of all the passengers for the Capitol Limited would show up! I was glad that we were here so early.
Little by little, each person was taken care of and departed. The first couple of people were being sent north by train and then west by another train. But after that, everyone was being told that all trains heading west from Washington, D.C., were booked solid for the rest of the day. Thus, Amtrak started making flight reservations for everyone. Most people accepted the alternate transportation, though reluctantly. A few people refused to take an airplane. Two of those people got a refund on their ticket and went to rent a car to drive to their destination. One person got a refund and went to purchase a Greyhound bus ticket.
Amtrak arranged to have Ray and I fly from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, Illinois, on a United Airlines flight that would depart out of BWI (Baltimore-Washington International) Airport at around 5:30 P.M. It was about 1:30 P.M. when Amtrak made those arrangements for us. They were going to put us on a 2:00 P.M. Metroliner over to BWI, but we told them that we wanted to be on the latest Metroliner available that would still allow us to get to the airport in time. So instead, they booked us on the 4:00 P.M. Metroliner.
The Customer Service people in Washington Union Station told us to see Customer Service in Chicago Union Station once we got there. They told us that the Customer Service in Chicago would take care of our cab fare, dinner, and a hotel for the evening, since we would arrive into Chicago about 21 hours too early for our train!
Before we left our office in Fullerton and started on this entire rail journey, we had made arrangements with Amtrak and the Washington, D.C., station building management to take 360 x 360 immersion photographs of the station between 1 and 3 P.M. Since there was still plenty of time before our 4 P.M. train to the airport, we went ahead and took the photographs.
While taking the photographs, the Amtrak person that was greeting passengers in the Metropolitan Lounge spotted us and came over to ask us what arrangements had been made for us by Customer Service. She wanted to make sure that we had been properly credited and taken care of by Customer Service. We gave her all the details and also explained what we were up to with our camera and tripod. She helped us out to the platform area to take the platform shots. We were very grateful for that as we often run into difficulty when trying to get out the platform area with a tripod camera in some of the larger cities. She told us that the Acela had been out at the platform area earlier and was going to take us to the platform next to that train. Unfortunately, it was no longer out on any of the tracks when we went out to the platform. But, we did get to take the photos that we originally planned to take out on the platform.
After taking the photographs, we went to the Metropolitan Lounge, as we had about an hour before the departure time of our train. I used the time to make sure that the 360 x 360 immersion photos came out O.K. If there was a problem with any of them, we still had time to retake a few. Fortunately, they all came out fine. You can see those photographs and take a virtual tour of Washington Union Station using the link below.
At about 4 P.M., an announcement for our train was made in the Metropolitan Lounge and we were allowed to exit out a side door of the lounge that leads directly to the platform where our train was boarding!
We arrived at the BWI Amtrak Station at about 4:30 P.M. I assume the doors to the train were supposed to open automatically. There were many of us waiting to get out the door, but the doors did not open! We all decided there must be a problem with the doors as it should not take this long for them to open. There were people outside the train waiting to board at those doors who gave up and headed for other doors. All of us waiting to leave the train made the same decision and also headed for another door. This was easier said than done! Passengers were already boarding the train through those doors and we had to make our way through an aisle full of boarding passengers with our large suitcases! We did make it off the train before it departed. Once we were out on the platform, we noticed that a Conductor had finally opened the door where we had been waiting.
A free shuttle bus was waiting on the other side of the station and we took that bus to the airline terminal. We were at the gate waiting for our plane at about 4:50 P.M. Thus, it only took 20 minutes from the Amtrak Station to get checked in, through security, and walk down to the gate. Don't bet on it always taking so little time. The shuttle bus only runs every 15 minutes and I'm sure check-in and passing through security take longer during busier travel times.
The following unusual act of kindness relating to the alternate arrangements made by Amtrak was observed and described by Ray Burns of TrainWeb below:
"When Steve and I were in Washington, DC, waiting for our train to take us to Chicago, IL, we were sorely surprised to find out that it was cancelled. While we were in the packed Customer Service room trying to work out another route to get to Chicago, so we could catch our train going to Los Angeles, CA, I came across one of the many good deeds that are played out by Good Samaritans all over this country, but are rarely noticed by the general public. It is just a personal act of kindness by an individual who did that little extra that can make all the difference in the world to the one in a bad situation. This middle aged black woman with three children was sitting beside this white man who was possibly in his mid fifties. Amtrak was going to fly this man to Chicago so he can get to his connecting train on time. Anyway, he was paranoid about flying and started to break down. My heart went out to him but I didn't interfere. This gal started to talk to him incessantly, never stopping, reassuring him that everything was going to be okay. It turned out that she got on the same plane as him. She even asked a person that was sitting beside him if she could exchange seats so she could sit by him. She even convinced the stewardesses to let her do so. Steve and I were sitting across the isle from them and I could see and hear them. This Good Samaritan talked to him from the time she sat down beside him in DC, to the time we parked in Chicago! Even when he realized that the plane was coming in for its landing and he started to get more nervous, this wonderful woman kept talking to keep him busy on what she was talking about. Just general "chit-chat." He was so preoccupied with her ongoing conversation that he made it without imploding. What a wonderful thing for her to do! She had enough on her hands with her three teenage daughters but she went out of her way, with no thought of remuneration on her part, to help this stranger who was in a serious bind. Later on in the hotel that I was staying in I noticed that gal with her three daughters checking into the hotel as well, and the man was not there, so they were not together. Thank you dear lady, for being "Queen for a day!" It is an act you can be proud of! I am so impressed when people do good deeds for their fellow man, no matter how small. It gives you faith that there are still good people in big cities everywhere. I am sure that most of us have done a number of good deeds in time. We must never stop, as that is Christmas, twelve months a year!"
The flight was smooth and arrived on time into Chicago, though it took well over 30 minutes from the time that the plane landed until we finally got into a cab to leave from the airport. The plane had to taxi a long way from where it landed to get to the gate. Then it was a long distance from the gate to the baggage claim area, which wasn't really a delay since the baggage wasn't there by the time we got there anyway! Then, there was a huge line of people waiting for taxicabs! There were plenty of cabs, but it took a while to get all those people loaded.
Our cab driver's nickname was "Chubby" and he was quite a character! Chubby said that driving a taxi is just one of the many things that he does. He had magazine articles about himself posted all over the inside of his cab. In addition to driving a cab, he also runs a matchmaking service! He had photos of some of his clients posted to the inside ceiling of his taxi. Chubby has been interviewed on radio and television and is about to appear on "Inside Edition!" Many marriages have resulted from his personalized matchmaking. He also offers one- and two-hour tours of Chicago. When you have a layover in Chicago and are wondering what to do with your time, give "Chubby" a call at 773-671-1222 and take his tour of Chicago. Or, if you are single, divorced or widowed and straight and looking for a mate, Chubby can probably help you in that department too! Be sure to mention that you heard about him from TrainWeb.com!
Once we arrived at Chicago Union Station, we went to Amtrak Customer Service again. There was already another family ahead of us that were in the same predicament. When it was our turn, they gave us vouchers to reimburse our cab fare and advance vouchers to pay round-trip for our cab to the hotel for the evening as well as giving us a voucher for a night in the hotel. They also gave Ray and I telephone cards good for 10 minutes of long distance each. We took the payment vouchers across the aisle to the Amtrak ticket windows where they gave me cash in exchange for the vouchers. Amtrak covered the cost of the taxi from the airport to the train station exactly, including the tip. They provided us with an additional $60 to cover the remaining expenses for the night. Since round trip cab fare from the station to the hotel was only $12, that left $48 ($24 each) to cover the cost of dinner. We hung onto the hotel voucher as that was to be presented to the hotel directly.
Amtrak put us up in the Executive Plaza Hotel. I am now going to make that my hotel of choice when I stay in Chicago! I don't know what they normally charge, but it appears that they only charge Amtrak $50 per night. As far as I know at this time, the regular rate might be more than twice that. I also noticed that they offer upgrades to suites and/or river view rooms for just a little more per night.
The hotel must have just assigned us to whatever rooms were empty as I'm pretty sure the room we were given was a step up from the normal room. The room was very large with two queen size beds. There was also a couch, a coffee table, and a long dresser. In addition to that, the room had a large separate area with a good size table, refrigerator and coffee maker. The separate area was divided from the rest of the room by a half wall. The table in this separate area was an ideal place for Ray and I to set up both computers and still have plenty of table space left over! There were 4 or 5 extremely large windows. Two of them could swing out about 8 inches from the bottom to let fresh air into the room without posing any threat to falling out the window. I think this may have been one of the suite upgrade rooms rather than a standard room in the hotel. We were on the 11th floor of the hotel and the elevator required use of our key in order to open to our floor. The hotel is fairly close to the train station and is a little more than a $4 cab ride, $6 including tip.
Having only had breakfast so far, not having had time to grab lunch or dinner, we were pretty hungry! By the time we got to the hotel and settled in, it was just after 9 P.M. Central Time. We were told that there was an excellent place for Chicago pizza right next door. Since we didn't want to eat too much that late at night, we decided to go to the pizza place rather than to a regular full menu restaurant. However, the pizza place closed at 9 P.M., and we were too late! They had just locked the doors.
The only nearby place left open was the hotel restaurant itself, so we decided to eat there. As it turned out, it was lucky that the pizza place was closed, since the food from the hotel restaurant was excellent! We ordered hot buffalo wings and a quesadilla as appetizers, which were both very good. The waiter also brought sourdough rolls along with a spread that was made from olives and other Mediterranian ingredients. That was delicious on the rolls and Ray and I polished that off quickly!
I ordered a Bloody Mary, which came in a tall glass and was exceptional! Few places can make a Bloody Mary that I would rate as excellent, but this place did it right! Plus, it was in a tall glass. This was more like a double Bloody Mary. They served it with two big Spanish olives and a slice of lemon, just the way I like it!
Ray and I each wanted one of the pasta dishes. One was a linguini and the other was a three-cheese stuffed ravioli. We mentioned to the waiter that we were going to get one of each and that we would be swapping half of each so that we'd each have half of each dish. The waiter offered to have the meals separated in the kitchen to make it easier for us. We told him that we would greatly appreciate that. So, when the meals were brought to the table, a half bowl of each past dish was placed in front of each of us. Both Ray and I had expected to see the ravioli in a red sauce and the linguini in a white sauce, but it was just the other way around! The linguini was in a tomato sauce. The ravioli was in sort of a clear sauce, maybe made up of garlic and olive oil. It definitely was not anything like a rich alfredo sauce. The entire meal was absolutely delicious!
Because of the cancelled train and the closed pizza place, I now have three new recommendations for TrainWeb visitors: (1) Have "Chubby" give you a tour of the city during your layover, (2) Stay at the Executive Plaze Hotel if you will be staying in the city overnight, and (3) Eat at the hotel restaurant at the Executive Plaza! It appears that the room service menu is the same as the restaurant menu, so you can even have their wonderful entrees sent up to your room!
Southwest Chief (Westbound)
Monday, May 01, 2000
After waking up in the morning, Ray and I called over to the building management of the Chicago Union Station to remind them that we would be arriving to take the 360x360 immersion photos of the station.
We checked out of the hotel and took the taxi to Chicago Union Station. As soon as we got to the station, we went right to the storage room for carry-on baggage for Sleeping Car passengers. We checked in our two large suitcases, but let the Red Cap know that we would be back to also drop off our big camera case and pick up our computers from the other two bags.
The next thing we did was to go to the building management office for Chicago Union Station and sign in. In the past, I've been stopped from taking photos with a tripod so many times, that I like to pre-arrange for permission to use the tripod wherever possible. Ray and I did not get bothered at all by Security or Station Staff while we took our photos until we started to head out onto the platform. An Amtrak employee questioned us as we headed out the platform. Since everything had been arranged by telephone and we did not have any paperwork authorizing us to take pictures on the platform, the Amtrak staff member had to call up to the leasing office to make sure that it was OK for us to head out onto the platform. After checking with them, she waved us through to the platform.
Ray and I were finished with the photography at just about noon. You can see these photos by clicking on the link below.
Ray and I went to the pizza place upstairs in the Chicago Station and each had a personal deep dish pizza for lunch. Ray had the vegetarian and I had the plain cheese pizza. There may be better deep dish pizzas in Chicago, but the personal size ones in the station are not bad! I once even purchased one and brought it with me on the train instead of having dinner on the train. I think that was a time when I had not had lunch yet and did not want to wait until the dinner seating to eat.
The Southwest Chief departed the station just a few minutes late at 3:27 PM. After heading west for about 5 minutes, the train stopped in the Chicago Yard so that freight cars could be added to the train.
I stepped out of the room to get a cup of coffee, but there wasn't any coffee available. Not only wasn't anything set up in the refreshment area of the sleeping car, but even the coffee maker itself was missing! Ray noticed that there weren't any soft drinks, bottled water or ice put out for passengers. That is not a very good sign at the start of a long rail journey.
Jon, our Car Attendant, stopped by the room to introduce himself. He also explained that due to various circumstances, little was able to be loaded onto the train before we left in terms of refreshments. Even the dining car did not have coffee pots when we first departed! Jon said that a coffee pot was brought to his car just before our departure and that he will have some coffee ready a little later.
After getting the freight onto the back of the train, we finally departed from the yard at 4:07 P.M. We made it out of Naperville by 4:41 P.M., just 24 minutes behind schedule. An announcement was just made from the lounge car that it is now open and serving. The Lounge Car Attendant apologized for taking so long to open, but once again this was because the supplies were delivered so late to the train.
At 5:14 P.M, the Chief of On-board Services stopped by our room to introduce himself. He also wanted to apologize that we'd be using plastic forks and spoons this evening. The box that was delivered to the Dining Car that they thought was the silverware turned out to be only kitchen knives! He said that every effort possible would be made to get silverware onboard the train in time for breakfast.
The first call for dinner was at 6 P.M. Since Ray and I did not want to eat late, we made a beeline for the Dining Car right at first call. We had no problem getting into the first seating since we were in the Sleeping Car right next to the Dining Car and also knew that we would have to move promptly to avoid ending up on a waiting list. It took us a few moments longer to get to the Dining Car than on our eastbound trip. The reason for this is that this Sleeping Car is oriented differently than the one on our eastbound trip. During the eastbound trip, the Standard Bedrooms were right next to the entrance to the sleeping car. Thus, our Room 7 was just 2 doors down from the entrance to the Dining Car. This time, the Deluxe Rooms are closer to the Sleeping Car. We are in Room 9 and have to navigate the entire length of the car to enter the Dining Car. But, being in the 0330 Sleeping Car does put us closer to the Dining Car than the 0331 Sleeping Car.
While we were eating dinner, the late eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief (Train #4) pulled up right next to us. They stopped the two trains so that the Dining Car doors would be lined up right next to each other. Then, several sets of silverware as well as a full complement of desserts was passed from the Number 4 Train to our train through the aligned Dining Car doors! Thus, we were offered the full array of desserts and my dessert was served with a real fork, not a plastic fork! The engineer of the other train waved to the passengers in our Dining Car as he passed by the car!
The train arrived into Fort Madison, Iowa, at 8:10 P.M. They called the chef to the platform and more Dining Car supplies were placed onto the train at Fort Madison! At Fort Madison, the crew changed from Radio Channel 36 (161.650) to Channel 30 (161.560), identical to the change done in Fullerton!
The train arrived into Kansas City, Missouri, at 11:30 P.M., about 25 minutes behind schedule. There was a bit of a delay at the station as they had to handle mail at the station. I don't know if they dropped off mail, picked up mail, or did both. The train departed from the Kansas City Station at 12:05 A.M., 45 minutes behind schedule. Thus, it looks like we lost another 20 minutes at this station.
After traveling for just a bit out of the station, we had to stop again to pick up a few Roadrailers. The train jostled a bit forward and backward to link up with the additional Roadrailers.
Tuesday, May 02, 2000
Ray and I went to sleep shortly after we left Kansas City. Jon, the Car Attendant, had come by just a bit earlier and asked if we would like help setting up the beds in our room. At that time, we still had a bit more energy and wanted to continue working on our computers. We thanked Jon and told him not to wait up for us; we'd set up our own beds when we were ready to hit the sack. I've set up the bed in these rooms so many times, that I think I've now gotten to be as swift as any Car Attendant at it, even when the seats get a bit stuck.
I woke up at 6:35 A.M., just as the train was leaving Dodge City, Kansas. The station at Dodge City was similar to that in San Bernardino, California, in that it was a very large station building that was all boarded up and run down. Amtrak occupied just a small corner of the building. Along this route, there are many impressive station buildings where Amtrak doesn't even stop. We departed from Garden City, Kansas, at 7:17 A.M., 36 minutes behind schedule. By the time we left Lamar, Colorado, we had made most of that up and departed at 7:30 A.M., just 11 minutes behind schedule.
The Dining Car was pretty full when Ray and I went down for breakfast at around 7:00 A.M. We passed a couple of tables that still had open spots. Those open spots were all cleared off and ready for diners to be seated. But, as is the custom, we waited for the Dining Car Steward to assign seats to us. She told us the diner was full and would put us on a waiting list. Ray, thinking that she had not noticed the available seats that were all cleaned off and ready for use, mentioned to her that we had just passed some available tables. In a very demeaning manner, she replied: "This ain't home! We don't seat people at dirty tables!" Ray tried to explain that the open tables were not dirty, but she wasn't listening. She seemed too annoyed that a passenger would question her directives and wasn't interested in what Ray was saying. She just repeated something about not seating passengers at dirty tables, asked for a name for the waiting list, and directed us to the lounge car.
We can understand the Steward wanting to use her own method for seating people. We don't have a problem with that. What we do have a problem with was her demeaning attitude toward the passengers. There was no need for the statement: "This ain't home! We don't seat people at dirty tables!" To me, that was a rude comment and a statement filled with problems. First, it assumes the passenger was suggesting that they be seated at a dirty table, which was not the case. Ray just thought that she had not noticed the "clean" empty tables that were available. Second, are we to assume that she does seat people at dirty tables at home? Her remark certainly seemed to imply that most passengers are slovenly and don't mind eating at dirty tables at home!
Since Amtrak likes to promote their Dining Car Service as being similar to that of a fine restaurant (with the exception of their soup kitchen seating system), would you expect a similar demeaning response from the seating Hostess? Actually, maybe one should expect a response like that if you go into a really fine restaurant with a snooty Maitre D'! In any case, a polite and civilized response would have been : "Thank you for the suggestion, but we have a specific seating system that we need to use in order to provide good service to everyone."
I would not have brought up this minor incident, but I have witnessed many similar minor conflicts between passengers and Dining Car Stewards in the past. Since about 50% of the people on each Amtrak train are experiencing rail travel for the first time, most are not familiar with Amtrak's policy of seating diners at tables with complete strangers to make optimum use of the limited seating space. Thus, you can imagine how ofter this results in comments and questions between these passengers and the Dining Car Steward. The Dining Car Steward has to understand the "culture shock" of these passengers and explain the situation in an educational and informative manner. Too often I've seen the Dining Car Steward immediately become combative when passengers have asked questions or made suggestions.
There is rarely a need for me to question a directive of the Dining Car Steward. Thus, I seldom run into the above problems. You probably won't encounter such problems either. But, just keep in mind that there are Dining Car Stewards who are not open to seating suggestions and who may not be polite in their response to you questioning their authority! Those Dining Car Stewards are in need of some lessons in hospitality, which is one reason we were so pleased to find hospitality to be the background of the people who manage the Auto Train!
The train made up all of its lost time and left La Junta, Colorado, on time at 8:38 A.M. We actually had arrived a few minutes early and had to wait for the scheduled departure time before we could leave!
The train has been able to keep on schedule for the last two stops, arriving into both early and having to wait for the scheduled departure time of 9:52 A.M. out of Trinidad, Colorado, and 10:56 A.M. out of Raton, New Mexico.
The train lost a little bit of time on its way to Las Vegas, New Mexico, departing at 12:43 P.M. instead of 12:39 P.M. That should not be hard to make up.
The train arrived into Lamy, New Mexico, very early! We arrived at 2:16 P.M., 20 minutes ahead of schedule! The Conductor announced that we would be into Albuquerque about 1 hour after our departure from Lamy. So, if we depart on time at 2:16 P.M., then we should be into Albuquerque at 3:16 P.M. That would give us 1 hour and 22 minutes layover in Albuquerque before the scheduled departure time of 4:38 P.M.!
I think the Conductor should not have jumped the gun on telling us that we would arrive into Albuquerque in just an hour. We are now stopped on a siding at Waldo waiting for the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief to pass us. They are not expected here for about another 10 minutes. The Conductor announced that even with this delay, we will arrive into Albuquerque on time. However, that is a far cry from the original projection of arriving into Albuquerque 52 minutes early!
The eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief Train #4 passed us at 3:09 P.M. and the Conductor announced that we will be into Albuquerque in about 40 minutes. The current projection is to get into Albuquerque around 3:50 P.M., about 18 minutes ahead of schedule giving us a layover of 48 minutes.
The final status! We arrived into Albuquerque at about 4:00 PM, just 8 minutes ahead of schedule giving us a 38 minute layover. Ray and I had already made our plan of what we were going to do when the train arrived into Albuquerque. First, we'd go to the "El Amigo" Catering truck and get some of the burritos that we love. Then, Ray would head down along the express freight cars to get the numbers of those cars while I headed up to the front end of the train to get the numbers of the passenger cars. Finally, we'd meet back in our room in the sleeping car to enjoy our burritos!
Ray reminded me that we had passed the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief not that long ago and the passengers on that train might have grabbed up all the burritos! With more than 3 hours between trains, I was thinking that they might restock their supply of burritos. However, when we did get to the truck, we found that they did not restock between trains and they were out of a couple kinds of burritos. Fortunately, they had more selection than last time. Ray got two of the beef, bean, potato and green chili burritos. I got one like Ray's and one bean, cheese and potato burrito. They were as good as ever!
Neither Ray nor I had eaten since breakfast, so the burritos were our lunch. Now the only problem is trying to figure out what to do about dinner! We figured we would not be hungry again for a few hours, but we also did not want to eat too late. Thus, we made our Dining Car reservations for 7:20 P.M. and figured it would probably be at least 7:40 P.M before the food was placed in front of us. That was the best compromise that we could work out for trying to eat as late after lunch as possible without eating too late. If we both feel as stuffed then as we do now, we might just skip dinner!
Workers dressed in yellow hardhats and waterproof yellow jackets again came along and washed all the windows on the train! They used a squeegee on a long pole to wash the windows to our upstairs room in the Sleeping Car. It is great to see them washing windows again in Albuquerque!
The train started doing some shuffling at about 4:35 P.M. to remove some of the express freight cars from the end of the train. Just then, a man came running up to the train, carrying a bit of luggage. They let him onto the train. I'm not sure he would have made it had we not been delayed a couple of minutes to remove some of the express freight cars.
Something that I found unusual was that the toilets in the Sleeping Cars, on both our eastbound and westbound segments, were spotless almost every time I went to use one! I've always found the toilets to be clean on all of my trips in Amtrak Superliner Sleeping Cars, but I've often found water splashed around the counter and on the mirror when entering the restroom. Sometimes, but not often, there will be a paper towel or tissue that a prior user dropped on the floor and did not bother to pick up. On this entire round-trip, however, I've been amazed that the restroom has been totally clean with even the sink wiped dry almost every time that I have gone in! Personally, I clean up the restroom each time that I use it, even to the point of wiping out the bowl of the sink. I like to do my own part in leaving Amtrak passengers with a good impression of the restroom facilities. Unless there are a lot of other passengers like myself in the Sleeping Car, the Car Attendants must have been checking and cleaning up the restrooms quite frequently!
In all of my rail travels, I've seldom found any of the four toilets in the Sleeping Cars out of operation. However, I've heard that it is much more common for one or more of the toilets in the Coach Cars to be out of operation before the end of a trip. Fortunately, there are a few toilets in every Coach Car and there are almost always a lot of available working toilets even if a few are out of operation.
I was surprised to find out that the main reason that toilets sometimes go out of operation is because items have been thrown into the toilet that don't belong in the toilet. There are plenty of warnings given over the Public Address system on the train. There are also warnings about what should not be thrown in the toilet right on the inside of the restroom door and on the inside of the toilet lid. Yet, people still throw in items that can jam these toilets! Coach toilets seem to be more susceptible to these problems than Sleeping Car toilets. That is probably because of the ratio of people to toilets. Including the toilets in the Deluxe and Handicapped Rooms, there are a total of 10 toilets in the Sleeping Car. It is very rare for there to be as many as 40 people in one Sleeping Car. Thus, the ratio is one toilet for every 3 to 4 people. In the Coach Cars, there is probably one toilet for every 10 to 20 people. Thus, there is more usage of each toilet in the Coach Cars and, unfortunately, more people will be affected when one of those toilets goes out of operation!
The following are Ray's comments on the subject:
"I know that people for some crazy reason throw odds and ends into the toilets on the train. I'm talking about items that passengers are told NOT to throw into the "john." Yet they still do! It blew me away when I found out from the Auto Train people that towels and undergarments are also thrown in there! I never heard of anyone doing that in a home, let alone a special toilet on a train. Obviously, that plugs up the toilet so the rest of the passengers cannot use it. Maybe that person thinks that they won't need to use it again. If a person is caught doing such a thing I think that THEY should be flushed down to the holding tank. It might cure them of a bad habit. Of course I am only saying this in jest. Right? People, please be considerate of others. No one likes to clean up after you. If we are in a situation where we have to use a public restroom, each and every one of us has the responsibility to be respectful of others. Parents, watch your children and clean up after them if they can't. Remember, a trip on the train is usually a restful and exciting journey for many, so don't mar their experience with insensitive behavior on your part. They don't need it and neither does Amtrak. For those who have a problem with this, I think you should build your character to a higher level. Think, before you act!"
Wednesday, May 03, 2000
The train departed Barstow, California about 10 minutes late at 4:30 A.M. but made that up by the time it departed Victorville right on schedule at 4:56 A.M. The arrival into San Bernardino was early at 6:10 AM and our departure on schedule at 6:21 A.M. got us into Fullerton a few minutes early at about 7:10 A.M.
Ray and I just had to carry our luggage upstairs into the station and we were right at work! We were able to get back to our desks before 7:20 A.M. so that I was able to get some finishing touches onto this travelogue and have it uploaded before 8 A.M.!
If you have read many of my travelogues, or those of Ray Burns, other TrainWeb staff members, or TrainWeb visitors, then you know that we write about our rail travel experiences exactly as we see them. We don't pull punches. If we have a complaint, we write about it. When we receive exceptionally good service, we are sure to praise the individuals and/or the policy responsible for our enjoyment. But, the bottom line is that we all find the wonderful part of rail travel to far outweigh the drawbacks. That is why we keep coming back for more! So, please don't let the negative parts of any rail travelogue dissuade you from traveling by rail. They don't dissuade us from continuing to travel by rail!
The purpose of letting you know our bad experiences along with our good experiences is so that you will be prepared when you encounter similiar circumstances. The more knowledge that you have of what rail travel is like, the more you will enjoy your travel. If you do encounter any of the negative parts of rail travel, at least you were forwarned and such experiences will not be a surprise disappointment. Relax, take everything in stride and as part of the adventure, and you can't help but enjoy the overall rail travel experience! I often look forward to the unusual on each rail trip as that is what makes it different from previous rail trips and adds to the adventure!