Amtrak Lake Shore Limited
Schenectady, New York - Chicago, Illinois
January 8, 1999 - January 9, 1999
This travelogue covers my journey on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited from Schenectady, New York to Chicago, Illinois just after the largest winter storms that midwest has seen in 30 years! Linked to this travelogue you will find both still pictures and short video clips of this journey.
1999 JAN 09 SAT 00:04
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans! According to the schedule, I was to have about a 7 hour layover in Schenectady, New York. The waiting room in Schenectady is fine for arriving 30 minutes before your train, even if that train might be a little late, but it is certainly no Metropolitan Lounge! I decided to spend most of those 7 hours at the nearby Days Inn Hotel. I knew I could get several hours of work done and probably connect up to the internet to get updated on everything.
From a map in the station it seemed it wouldn't be much of a walk to the hotel on a warmer day. However, I once tried the short walk between the Seattle Amtrak Station and the Best Western Pioneer Square Hotel. I made it just fine, but that was the end of the wheels on my luggage. Even some of the most sturdy wheels on luggage have just not been built to be dragged relatively long distances over asphalt, dirt and rocks that you encounter on city streets. Ever since then I take taxis even short distances unless I'm only traveling with a backpack. On top of that, it just wasn't the asphalt that was the problem, but most of that asphalt was covered with ice and snow in Schenectady!
There were a couple of Taxi companies listed in the station. I called the one with the 800 number. I wasn't very happy with the person handling the telephone. I said: "I need a taxi to take me from the train station." She asked: "Where are you going?" I said: "The Days Inn." She said: "OK" and hung up! I didn't get a chance to ask how long it would be before a taxi would show up.
Twenty minutes later, still no taxi. First, you have to consider that the train arrived about 20 minutes late, so the 7 hour gap between trains was already starting to dwindle. I called back the 800 number and asked how soon they thought the taxi might be here. She replied: "As soon as we can get it there" and hung up on me again! At that point I was about to call another taxi company, but the taxi did show up at the door just then.
The fare to the hotel was only $3 and I gave the driver a $2 tip. It only took about 5 minutes to get from the station to the hotel, but there were some pretty long snow filled blocks between the station and the hotel.
I did get a lot of work done in the room and I was able to connect to the internet with a call to a local Earthlink dial-up number. Earthlink seems to have dial-up numbers just about everywhere. Where they don't, they do have service via a toll-free number, though I often have problems getting a good connection on the toll-free number. I uploaded all of the video clips, photographs, and travelogues that I had completed by that time and was able to exchange e-mail with the system.
At 9 PM I went to the main page at TrainWeb and clicked on the "Train Status" link that takes me right to the information about arrival status on the Amtrak Reservations web site. From that I was able to determine that the eastbound Lake Shore Limited segment out of Boston had left Springfield 43 minutes late and the Lake Shore Limited segment out of New York City was running 23 minutes late. From that information, I could not take a chance that the train would be late into Schenectady. These two segments of the Lake Shore Limited are connected together in Albany, NY. There is a lot of slack in the schedule in Albany to allow time for one train or the other to be late and to connect them together. If they expedited the time it took to connect them up, the train could make up much of its lost time. Not likely, but possible. Thus, I still had to be sure to be back to the station before 10:35 PM.
Now I found out what the problem was with the delayed taxi earlier! Because of the weather conditions, some taxi drivers were not even taking to the road. Those that were, had more business than they could handle! I called several taxi companies in the phone book. They fell into two categories: (1) no answer or (2) line busy. After trying to get hold of a taxi for several minutes and not even getting anyone on the phone, I realized the situation was desperate. Even if I got someone on the phone, it might be difficult to get a driver to come all the way out to my hotel for a $3 fare, especially when there were many people trying to get taxis who most likely would have a longer journey than that.
I did the only think that I thought was reasonable in the situation: I grabbed my map of Schenectady, bundled up, and set out on foot for the station! The woman at the hotel tried to give me directions to the station, but when I asked her to show my on the map, she was all confused. She wasn't very good with maps. The directions she gave me would actually have had me walk an extra block out of my way at the beginning and end of my trip to the station. As I was to find out, those extra blocks could really have been detrimental.
There was no way that I could wheel my suitcase. The snow was 3 or 4 inches on the ground on the sidewalks, and sometimes much deeper. The streets had about an inch of snow, except where a plow had recently pushed it off. In those places there was just a thick sheet of ice! It was still snowing pretty heavily and very little sand or ice had been put down on the roads yet. The luggage could not be rolled through snow that deep. Thus, I picked up the suitcase and carried it.
When I'm traveling in the Sleeping Car, I usually keep everything heavy in my rolling luggage and just put light clothes in my backpack. When I have to travel in coach, I reverse that. I carry my computer and other essentials that I need with me in the backpack since I usually have to store the suitcase above the seat or away from me in some luggage rack. I was all packed for the sleeping car, but I should have repacked for this journey though the snow. I had to pick up and carry my heavy suitcase in one hand and my other carrying bag in the other hand, which also wasn't very light. The only thing I had on my back was my backpack full of light clothing!
About halfway through this journey, I had to switch hands about every 100 feet. Whichever hand was carrying the suitcase would get tired pretty quickly! I was only wearing sneakers, so I had to walk down the middle of the streets where the snow was less deep. The streets were almost deserted of traffic, but I kept my eyes out as to where I might leap if a passing car went out of control on the ice and started sliding toward me!
As I got to the very end of the long street that I was walking down, I realized that the train station platform was directly ahead and above. However, I also realized that the entrance to the station was on the other side of those tracks and there was no way to get to the other side without going down a half a block, go under a bridge, and come back half a block. Once I got to the other side of the bridge, I could see the Amtrak station on the other side of the parking lot. By that time, my hands were so cold and tired, I had to switch what I was carrying from one hand to the other about every 20 feet! I thought I would never make it across the parking lot. To make matters worse, there was a snowplow working the parking lot and we seemed to keep getting in each others way!
I eventually did make it into that station around 10 P.M. I guess it took me about 30 minutes to walk the few short blocks through all that snow. My luggage and jacket were totally covered with ice and frozen snow. I took of my jacket in the warm station and spent the next 10 minutes cleaning all the ice and snow off my luggage. Having the frozen stuff on the outside was not a problem. The problem would come when the frozen stuff melted in the warm station and any water got into the computer and camera equipment. Thus, I wanted to make sure my luggage was totally wiped down before the snow and ice started melting.
As I had guessed, the train had not made up any time and had even fallen a little further behind. I spent the extra time in the station working on my computer off-line. At about 11:20 P.M. we were told to head up the stairs to the platform. I'm not sure why they didn't tell people they could use the elevator. There were a number of elderly people that were having a really rough time trying to carry their luggage up the stairs. Some looked like they were having a hard time just getting themselves up the stairs. A number of people that had little to carry themselves volunteered to help these people get their luggage upstairs to the platform. All I can imagine is that there was a problem with the elevator or maybe the station staff was using it to bring up the checked baggage.
My sleeping car was down near the front of the train. I chased after it as the train pulled into the station and my sleeping car ended up way at the front of the station. I'm not exactly sure who is my Car Attendant yet. Maybe one is a trainee. There were two people by the door and neither was dressed as a Conductor. Maybe one was the onboard service crew chief. The person who I thought was the Sleeping Car Attendant greeted me very friendly and carried two of my bags all the way down to my room. The other person came by later and got my ticket, leading me to think he was the Conductor, but certainly out of uniform. However, the person who was definitely the Conductor came by my room later looking for my ticket and realized that it had already been collected even before I opened my door. So far, all three people who have come to my door seem very friendly and helpful. Unlike the eastbound journey, this Car Attendant has apple juice and coffee available even at midnight!
1999 JAN 09 SAT 01:00
We left Utica, New York at 1 AM, about 56 minutes behind schedule. I think there may be a delay at many stations if this weather keeps up. There is 3 to 6 inches of snow on many of the station platforms. Once the train pulls into the station, people can't walk down the platform to get to their cars! Thus, the Conductor has been double spotting at some of the stations so that people can board their cars safely. Sometimes he is even doing a triple spot to load and unload baggage. These extra stops will definitely stretch out how long it takes us to ultimately get into Chicago.
I think it is time I hit the sack if I want to get up early enough to start the camcorder recording.
1999 JAN 09 SAT 09:52
I've been up for quite a while, maybe since 7 A.M. From the few times that I have been on the Lake Shore Limited, this is the first time I have every seen much of the lakes, though the shorelines are pretty much frozen over. Wherever there is a break in the ice there are a lot of birds in the water. On my previous Lake Shore Limited travels I must have either been on the wrong side of the train, or we passed the lakes in darkness. Some of the photos below include some lake shore, but I don't now if you'll be able to tell the difference between a frozen lake shore and a snow covered field from the photos.
I don't know if the thermostat in Viewliner Sleeping Rooms works better for cooling in the summer, but for heating in the winter, they might as well replace them with an on / off switch. When it gets too cold in the room, I turn the dial until I hear the little click that indicates the heating cycle has kicked in. When the room gets too hot, I just have to turn the dial minutely the other way to hear the click again that the heating cycle is off. Then, the room gets too cold. There doesn't seem to be a way to leave it on a temperature so that it will go on and off by itself and keep the room at the temperature that you want. I assumed it was designed to do that, but I had the same problem in the Viewliner Sleeping Car on my way east. I don't remember having this problem the last time I traveled in the Viewliner Sleeping Cars, but maybe that was during the summer.
Just in case any of you are worried about the heating: don't be. When I set the heating cycle on, the room becomes quite toasty. Turning off the heating cycle during winter will bring the temperature down quite a bit. I don't remember having any problems getting the room as cool as I wanted it when I traveled in the Summer months, so the air conditioning probably works fine also.
The north side of the Lake Shore Limited route is quite scenic, more so than the southern side, but that may be expected since the lakes are on the north side. I'm sure this trip is just as scenic if not more so during the summer months when the lakes aren't frozen.
The following photos were taken between Schenectady, New York and Toledo, Ohio.
Click here to view the photos.
The first three video clips below are of the light rail system in Cleveland, Ohio which runs right beside the Amtrak tracks for quite a segment and even passes between the Amtrak station platform and the Amtrak station building in Cleveland. I didn't see a light rail station that connected to the Amtrak station, but hopefully there is one. I did notice that the light rail seems to go right into the airport at Cleveland.
The next two video clips are of snow covered forests that we passed along the way. There were quite a few of them which provided continuous winter scenery.
1999 JAN 09 SAT 11:31
We are just west of Toledo, Ohio and just started to move after sitting here for quite a while. Seems there was another frozen switch up ahead that needed to be repaired. We were waiting behind two other freight trains that were also stuck behind the frozen switch.
1999 JAN 09 SAT 15:30
We arrived into Chicago at just about 3:30 P.M. with 15 minutes to spare to board the Amtrak Southwest Chief!
The following photos were taken between Toledo, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois.
Click here to view the photos.
In the video clips below you will see our approach into the city of Chicago and the start of the Chicago Amtrak Yard.
The video clips below are of the Chicago Amtrak Yard, the hub of Amtrak Intercity, where you will see many Amtrak locomotives and cars as well as our approach to Sears Tower, the landmark of Chicago.
Click here for the travelogue of the previous segment of this rail journey.
Click here for the travelogue of the next segment of this rail journey.