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7500 Mile Amtrak Trip
January 1996 - Jennings Ellis

Hello. I have just taken about a 7500 mile Amtrak trip. I had a church conference to go to in Louisiana and decided to include alot of train riding. I left Ottumwa Iowa on the CZ on Jan 8 headed for Chicago, although as usual (I have made this connection many times) there was no way to make the connection with the Texas Eagle there due to the lateness of the CZ. So it was a bus trip from Galesburg IL to Normal IL (for some reason the connection the other way is from Springfield to Galesburg) to meet the Eagle. From there I rode to Longview and another (planned) bus ride from there to Houston. This is part of Amtrak's budget cutting; they used to break the train in Dallas (there were other places earlier) and take a section to Houston while the main one went on to San Antonio with cars for the Sunset. The bus is maybe not as elegant, but better because it is faster.

I spent three days in Houston with friends before taking the Sunset to New Orleans. After the conference (at the Episcopal Conference Center of the Diocese of Louisiana, a great place for this kind of thing in the winter.) I boarded the City of NO in Hammond and rode to Chicago on the 25-26 Jan. After a day of museums (the Field in the morning and the Art Institute), I got on the Southwest Chief to ride to CA. Some adventure on the way: we left Chi in a snow storm with three Dash-8's on the head end. Somewhere in central IL a windshield in the lead locomotive popped out. The train crew changed the order in the storm. Then we lost HEP and were dead in the water for a total of 2 hours. We never made up the time, so I got off in Barstow to meet a bus from Las Vegas to get across Tehachapi to Bakersfield. As it turned out I could have gone all the way into LAUPT since the On-Board Service Chief caught the last bus from there to Bakersfield to meet the last San Joaquin to get to Fresno (home). That train was interesting in that it was lead by one of the California Amtrak F59PHI's and carried 3 California Cars.

My plans had called for me to ride through the Valley in day- light and get to Emeryville at 6 (on the 28th) but the lateness put me on the last San Joaquin arriving about 10. Since I had a hotel in SF I took the bus in and back out the next day to catch the CZ back to Ottumwa. We lost time just past Martinez when the lift bridge was up, and lost more time climbing to the Donner Pass. There were 2 F40's and an SP unit leading, but I think the train was underpowered. We put off 300 people, 3 coaches, and the SP unit at Reno and Sparks. I have read that Amtrak may extend a Capitol or a San Joaquin to Reno because there is so much business. Anyway I arrived back in Ottumwa about 4 hours late on the 31st.

I had economy bedrooms whenever I spent the night on board. My total fare was $1002 or between 12 and 13 cents a mile. I think that I had a bargain. I still have the ticket stubs with the fare breakdown on it, although it is not really clear what is for what. I have never been able to figure the system out either. I have riden Amtrak since the summer after its inception, including two other lengthy trips around the West. I enjoyed the Starlight in '86, but that was well before its current status as the premier train of the West Coast Business Unit. The Chief used to be the best train, especially for food, but Amtrak has pretty much standardized menus, it seems. There was gumbo and redbeans and rice on the northbound City. As far as scenery, the Eastbound Cardinal traverses the Appalachians and the Shenandoah Valley in daytime. Not as diverse as the Starlight, but astounding no less.

I have riden most of the long distance trains on Amtrak, except the Florida trains. I started riding trains when I was 2 on the Twin Star Rocket from Houston to Des Moines. I hope that ways are found to continue Amtrak and give it the needed capital. It seems to me that we subsidize highways and Airlines so why not the Railroad? One thing that people have to have is patience and a good attitude to take the train on long distances. When there is someone who is out of sorts with lateness or something else they can infect a whole train, particularily at mealtime.

Jennings Ellis
Gustavus Adolphus College
St. Peter, MN 56082

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