The sixth segment of my rail journey was on the Amtrak Silver Star from Miami, Florida to New York City.
The above photo is not of the Amtrak Silver Star, but was a photo taken of a Florida Tri-Rail Locomotive from my Viewliner window.
Radio: Channel 66 - 161.100 - Miami,FL to Orlando,FL.
I stayed at the Howard Johnsons Hotel on Biscayne Boulevard last night. With the AAA discount, it was only $79 per night before tax. The hotel was quite nice, certainly much better than the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York in terms of room quality and ammenities. My room was at the end of the hall on the 7th floor. The room had two huge double beds with a large sliding door window that went out to an open air balcony overlooking the water, the cruise ships, and downtown Miami.
I notice that the Miami Metromover was directly across the street from my hotel. After putting together information from a number of resources, I found that it would have been possible for me to take the Metromover to the Metrorail, the Metrorail to the Tri-State Rail, and the Tri-State Rail to an Amtrak Station. If I had done that, I could have saved about $30 in cab fares and experienced just about every mode of rail transportation that Miami has to offer. Unfortunately, that route would bypass the Miami Amtrak Station, since Tri-Rail doesn't serve that station, and left a whole in my coverage of all the Amtrak miles. But, for next time, if I'm ever just coming to visit this area, I know how to avoid the $18 cab fare each way plus tip!
Amtrak has a pretty nice setup in this station. It is a very modern facility. I hear this is an industrial area and a rather bad part of town. There is plenty of parking which pretty much goes unused because of the questionable safety of leaving a vehicle here overnight.
They have a large model train setup behind enclosed glass. The layout is of the Miami station and the area around the station. The model train layout not only includes a model of the station, but also replicas of both Amtrak trains and Florida Tri-Rail Trains. I didn't think of shooting any video until afterwords. I guess my experience in Penn Station has got me spooked about using a video camera in enclosed stations. I won't hesitate to use the camera out on an open platform, but I'm a bit concerned about taping in an enclosed station after that last experience.
There is a ton of available seats in the waiting room. Most of them face the model railroad display. Above the display is a fairly good size television set. They had "Weird Science" playing on it. I felt a little self conscious pulling out and working on my computer in the waiting room while a movie was playing about a couple of computer nerds that live their life vicariously through their programs, but I did it anyway!
While I was working away, a dog that looked like a big black retriever on a leash came over and sniffed all over my luggage and backpack! It took me a moment to realize they were going around the station looking for drugs. The lady behind me got up and ran away. Not that she had any drugs. She left all her luggage on her seat. The agent was trying to calm her saying that if she didn't bother the dog, the dog wouldn't bother her. She just replied: "It has teeth, doesn't it? If it has teeth, then it can bite!" After the agent left, she returned to her seat.
The train left right on schedule! Bob, the Car Attendant, came by and offered to explain about the room which I replied wouldn't be necessary. He let me know that he would soon have coffee, tea, apple and orange juice in the refreshment area along with ice. Bob also said that he would have cookies and anything else that he might be able to obtain from the Dining Car or Cafe Car available in the refreshment area and that he would later be stopping by with some complimentary wine and mints. He did live up to his word and made all those items available! Bob said to just ring if there was anything at all that I needed.
Bob just came to my room with a gift from the Amtrak Silver Service. It was a box that contained a wine glass engraved with "Silver Star", "Silver Meteor" and "Silver Palm" and a bottle of Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc from California! Well, I will save as souveniers the glass, the box and even the paper stuffing because they all have Amtrak logos on them. But, I won't be saving the wine since it doesn't say anything about Amtrak on it and isn't even from the east coast! Down the hatch!
I don't know what time we stopped at Sebring as I was off having lunch in the Dining Car. I was very fortunate to be seated with Jose Zorrilla. He was just finishing up lunch as I was seated at his table. We got to talking about train travel and he brought up the internet. I explained what I did and quite a bit about TrainWeb. He was traveling from Florida to Los Angeles, but he booked his reservations only one month in advance. Since accommodations on the Sunset Limited fill up pretty quickly, Amtrak Vacations booked him via the Silver Star to New York, the Lakeshore Limited to Chicago, and the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles. I don't want to put down Amtrak Vacations as they can sometimes be a great place to book Air-Rail travel and to get trip insurance for your Amtrak travel, but they didn't discuss with him the options of going via the Sunset Limited or even the ability to book a room all the way from Washington,DC to Los Angeles via the Capital Limited / Southwest Chief through train. That is why I always suggest checking with one of the travel agencies with a lot of experience that are listed on the TrainWeb Agencies Page at http://trainweb.com/agencies.html.
Jose Zorrilla seemed to be fairly experienced at exploring the web and was aware of Amtrak's page on the web. We talked quite a bit about both trains and the web and expect to meet this evening for dinner. We stayed so long at lunch time that they had to politely kick us out so they could start to get the car ready for dinner!
So far, this sleeping car is pretty empty. I'm in room 8 and Jose Zorrilla is in room 12 and I think there are a couple of other people in this car. Other than that, most rooms are empty. I suspect that more might be joining us as we go through additional large cities in the south like Orlando, Jacksonville, Savannah, etc. I'll keep my eye on that.
The luncheon selection in these single level dining cars is usually pretty limited, but I thought it was quite good. I had a grilled breast of chicken sandwich which was served with some type of chicken noodle soup.
Radio: Channel 66 - 161.100 - Miami,FL to Orlando,FL.
Radio: Channel 32 - 160.590 - Orlando,FL to Denmark,SC.
The transition point from Channel 66 to Channel 32 is only approximate. I know they were using Channel 66 in Winter Haven and were using Channel 32 by the time we got to Orlando. The switch was somewhere between those two stations.
Three Japanese people with big professional movie cameras and sound recording systems just walked by my window. This is far from the first time I've seen Japanese film crews both on and off the Amtrak trains. Do they have more movies about Amtrak in Japan than in the states? The Engineer just said over the radio: "Smile! You're on Candid Camera!" I've heard some people say that the Japanese are not interested in our trains because their trains are so much more "high-tech," but you can't convince me from my experiences that they aren't fascinated by the Amtrak equipment!
We left Kissimmee about 9 minutes late, but we arrived quite early into Orlando. I didn't realize this until I started to think we must be loosing a lot of time since we had to stay at the Orland station so long. When the train started moving, I checked the clock and saw that it was leaving right on time! Thus, the only reason the train stayed so long was because it cannot leave until the scheduled departure time. Guess there must have been some padding in the schedule for Orlando!
I know in some parts of the country people appear to have a very strong accent relative to people from other parts of the country. However, the southern drawl of the Engineer of our train is so strong that I can't make out a single word that he utters over the radio! Hopefully, the Conductors and Dispatchers are much more used to that accent and can understand it a lot better than I can! I can understand the Conductor completely when he talks on the radio.
As I was going down the corridor in my Viewliner Sleeping Car, I was wondering what she was doing standing out in the middle of the corridor. Then I realized her mother was probably using the toilet and there is noplace to go when your travel companion kicks you out of a Viewliner Bedroom while you wait for them to use the toilet.
I just returned from a pleasant dinner with Jose Zorrilla. This time I brought an Amtrak National Timetable, an Amtrak Northeast Timetable and and updated San Diegan schedule for him, items which were not provided to him by Amtrak Vacations. He should find these quite useful for the rest of this trip and in planning future trips. We continued our discussion of trains, computers and the internet over dinner.
Since I had a late lunch, I had my dinner at the 7 PM seating instead of the earlier 5:30 PM seating. We both had the stuffed red peppers. Looks like we even have a bit in common over our eating philosophy. I try to just eat one meal each day when I'm on the train, but he manages to do that all the time. When I first started traveling by train, I used to eat all 3 meals plus any snacks or happy hour munchies provided. Like a cruise ship, that will leave you with more pounds when you get off the train than you had when you got on. Since then, I've learned to always skip at least one meal each day on the train and to not even eat two meals if I'm not hungry at the dinner call. There is no rule that says that you have to eat everything that is provided just because it is included with the price of your ticket! The one thing that is not included in your ticket is a personal trainer to help you get the weight off that you might gain on the train.
Both of us feel the most important thing is to reduce fat in the diet and that the best way to do that is to limit meat consumption. I'll have an occassional steak maybe once a month or maybe a fast-food hamburger once in a while, but generally I stick to either chicken or turkey and will always pick an interesting vegetarian dish whenever available. That is one thing I like about Amtrak travel. They always have a vegetarian item on the menu and it is often something interesting and delicious.
This time they had stuffed red peppers. They were stuffed with rice and black beans instead of meat plus some very mild salsa. They also had a bit of cheese. I could taste the cheese but I didn't see any. It was served with two types of mellon, red grapes, a salad and a roll. I had the same item on my trip down on the Silver Palm. It was just as good this time as it was on the trip down which was quite good! I ordered a glass of white zinfandel to go with that and skipped desert. Some type of peanut butter pie and key lime pie was on the desert offering. I just had a cup of coffee as my desert. Although the meal is complimentary, alcoholic beverages are a little extra. My wine was $3. After dinner, we both left a tip and headed off to our rooms.
On the way out, we realized we missed a chance to step off the train for about a half hour. We got into Jacksonville, Florida, a little early and the train had to await its scheduled departure time at 8:12 PM. They were just closing up and getting ready to head off.
On my way through the sleepers I noticed that they had filled up quite nicely, just as I had predicted. I guessed a lot of people would be boarding at places like Orlando and Jacksonville, and they did!
Here is a little note for those of you that need to charge batteries on the train: you need to be careful. Trains do lose power from time to time. With most modern chargers, this can be a problem. Many new chargers will first discharge the battery before it starts to charge up the battery. It is very important to do that with NiCads if you don't want them damaged by the "memory effect." If you charge a battery on the train and the train loses power for a short while, many of these new chargers will start the "decharge/recharge" cycle all over again! Thus, if it seems to be taking much longer than usual to charge up your battery, it may be that the train lost power for a short time during the charge cycle.
Actually, I had even left my computer running while I went off to eat. Fotunately, when the power goes out, the battery in the notebook computer keeps everything running just like a back-up power supply. Thus, nothing was lost during the short power outage while I was away at dinner.
Well, here we are in Jacksonville, Florida! The city that I passed through yesterday, am here again today, and will be returning to on Saturday for about 10 hours to wait for the westbound Sunset Limited.
The road frequency is still Channel 32, 160.590. The wording has changed. It starts out with "Equipment Defect Detector." I thought it was going to say "Equipment Defect Detected." Maybe the Engineer though so too. The train decellerated in the middle of that sentence, sort of like your car would do if you just took your foot off the gas without applying the brakes. But, then the train quickly re-accelerated as the detector finished its report.
Radio: Channel 66 - 161.100 - Denmark,SC to Rocky Mount,NC.
Radio: Channel 32 - 160.590 - Heading north after Rocky Mount,NC.
The transition point from Channel 66 to Channel 32 is only approximate. I know they were using Channel 66 in Columbia,SC when I went to sleep and were using Channel 32 when I woke up just before arriving in Rocky Mount,NC. The switch was somewhere between those two stations.
I woke up to find that we were running about an hour late and that the road channel had switched from 66 back to 32 again. An hour late isn't too bad. They could make some of it up. Between Washington,DC and New York City,NY, this train only drops people off and doesn't pick anyone up. That is the only circumstance under which the train is allowed to leave ahead of schedule since nobody is expecting to board the train at a set time. The schedule allows the train up to 4 hours and 50 minutes to get from Washington, DC to New York, NY. That would be an average speed over 225 miles of about 50 miles per hour. That stretch of track is the Northeast Corridor (NEC) which has no freight interference and no grade crossings and where trains commonly run up to and over 100 miles per hour! Thus, if we don't have any further delays, my guess is that we will still come into New York early, even though we are already running about one hour late.
The dining car made their first announcement over the P.A., which was to call numbers for people who were awaiting seating for breakfast. That has to mean this train is quite full! Usually the first call to breakfast is to let people know that breakfast is being served and to come down to the diner if you want breakfast. If they are already calling numbers, that means the diner filled up with just the people who tried to get in early before the first announcement.
Radio: Channel 32 - 160.590 - Heading North Out Of Rocky Mount,NC.
Radio: Channel 54 - 160.920 - Wilmington,DE to New York,NY.
The transition point from Channel 32 to Channel 54 is only approximate. I know they were using Channel 32 in Petersburg,VA and then were using Channel 54 in Wilmington,DE. The change could have been anywhere between those two stations, even as early as Washington,DC.
A large group of about 40 people boarded the train last night and all came to the diner at the same time at 6:30 AM for breakfast. Since the diner doesn't even hold that many people, that created quite a problem! Some people that tried to enter the dining car before 7 AM didn't get seated until after 8:30 AM! I wasn't even out of bed at that time so I avoided that problem. Lunch was my first meal of the day.
The lunch crowd wasn't too large. I came in on the first call, there were plenty of empty seats, and I stayed through the last call. Since so many people had to eat breakfast later than they expected, it was probably still to early for many to be hungry for lunch yet.
We are currently running about 1 hours and 20 minutes late. That should still be plenty of time for me to get into New York to catch the southbound Silver Meteor at 7:05 PM this evening. But, if this train falls behind much further, I'm going to have to seriously start to consider getting off at Newark, New Jersey, and taking the Silver Meteor south out of there at 7:23 PM.
The train arrived into Penn Station in New York in plenty of time for me to make my connecting train at 7:05 PM. Arriving late just means I have less time to wait in the Metropolitan Lounge.
The lounge was pretty crowded when I arrived. As a matter of fact, the entire station was very crowded when I arrived. This is right in the middle of the rush hour in New York and people are rushing to take trains everywhere. They have some type of Executive Club here at the New York Amtrak Station. It seems to be a plan where certain commuters with upgrade rail accommodations also get access to the Metropolitan Lounge. Plus, there are just a lot of trains coming and going at this hour in the in New York!
In most of the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounges, you can find electricity for your computer and you will find pay telephones. Sometimes you can even find a phone line that I you can use with a credit card with your computer. Most of the Metropolitan Lounges also have at least one computer for use by the people in the lounge. There is seldom anyone ever using those computers. They usually have one or more online services installed such as America Online, but I don't remember ever seing one with a modem hooked up. The computer in the New York Lounge was running Windows 3.11, but you had to know to type "win" to get it going since it came up to a "C:>" prompt when booted up. Two different older versions of America Online were installed, but there wasn't any modem hooked up. There was a phone jack, but I didn't try it with my computer to see if it was live. There were phones in various places around the lounge, but I didn't check to see if they were the type that you could plug in your telephone and use with a credit card.