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Timothy Van Handel's
Family Train Trip

Sturevant, WI - Chicago, IL - Washington, DC
with Amtrak's Hiawatha, Cardinal, and Capitol Limited

My trip began with my family on June 28th, 1999. We departed the Sturtevant WI, station on one of the "Hiawatha's" on time and arrived in Chicago on time! What a great start! I knew when I made my reservations in January, that with the Conrail liquidation, things might get a little hairy in the summer, but I had my fingers crossed!!

While waiting in the metropolitan lounge that evening for #50 to depart, passengers traveling east on the Lake Shore LTD, were told that the in bound LTD was arriving 3hrs late and that there was no way the crews could restock the train in time for an eastbound departure on time... I was thinking, is this what lies in store for me on my return trip? I dont know what happened, but an hour later, an announcement said the Lake Shore would only be 30min. late departing Chicago.

At precisely 8:10P.M., we departed on #50 on time!!! We went past the Canal Street yards and the Conrail yards and were out of the station about 15 minutes, when suddenly we stopped. We were told freight congestion on the southside, was the hold up. After being stopped for 30min. we began to back up!! We traveled in reverse for what seemed like a mile. We stopped for another hour!!!!

We finally headed south through Dolton yard and onto the GTW. We arrived in Dyer IN,our 1st stop, 1and a half hours late!! I turned on my scanner, only to hear the CSX dispatcher telling our engineer we had train traffic to contend with all the way to Indianapolis. We did not make up any time to that city, but we didn't lose any time either; to that I was grateful!

This route really doesn't get interesting until Cincinnati and I was anticipating the scenery in the New River Gorge, in the afternoon. We traveled along the Ohio River for hours, but the train really made no attempt to make up time.I don't know what the track speed is between Chicago and Charleston, but I don't believe we ever went over 60mph!!!

We lost another half hour in the Gorge and entered the old Southern main line, 2 hrs behind schedule!!! From that point to Alexandria, we blasted at a good 80mph, but it was just too little too late.We made up a half hour due to the padding, but still arrived 1 and a half hours late into D.C.

Our return trip was on July 5th 1999 on #29, the Capitol Limited. Now I had been warned of long delays with this train this summer by friends, but had no idea the Conrail merger would be this bad for the timekeeping of this train!!!

We were waiting in the beautiful metropolitan lounge of Washington Union Station for the announcement of our train's 4:05 departure; that time came and went without any announcement of what the status of our train would be!!! At 4:30, one of the eastbound Florida trains boarded, but still no word on ours. Finally at 5p.m.we were told our train was still up in the yard and the had no idea what was going on!! 15 more minutes past when we were told  that they were having trouble with the interlockings because of extreme heat (108 degrees that day). Finally at 6:05, exactly 2 hours, late we departed D.C.

We had been on the road for about 30 minutes when the train went into emergency!!! I turned the scanner back on, to hear the conductor telling our engineer that the air hose on the back of our last mail car was too long and had snagged a switchpoint. After rigging the hose and making a brake test, the conductor then radioed our engineer to tell him the hinge on the door was broken and we couldn't go on until he could find something to wire it shut!!! We were on our way again...losing another 25 minutes!!!

We watched a movie and retired at 12:30 a.m. My wife set her alarm clock for 6:00 a.m., because she wanted to shower and take advantage of breakfast before we arrived in Chicago. I told her not to worry, we would have plenty of time for that, seeing as we were already so late and we hadn't even gotten to the Norfolk Southern congestion east of Cleveland yet!!!

 I awoke at sunrise to some very slow running and very bad city scenery. Looking at my watch, I told her if we were 2 hrs late, this should be Toledo. WRONG!!! We had lost another hour at Pittsburgh overnight, and this was the city of Cleveland!!!!

Now the real headaches started!!! We would crossover to the eastbound main and run around dead NS westbounds; then cross back over to the westbound to pass dead NS eastbounds. This continued all the way to Chicago!!!! We were told we would arrive in Chicago over 5 hrs late!!!

 There were a dozen 1st class people in our car who needed to make a connection to #7, the westbound Empire Builder, and the conductor phoned Union Station to see if they would hold the train for us. They said they would.

Now, seeing as we were arriving late, and the Empire Builder was waiting for us, don't you think all #7 passengers would be boarded, so when we arrived, our connecting passengers could run off our train and over to that one? NOOOOO!!!! The station people didn't board a single passenger until after we arrived... The station was packed with angry passengers!!! It took 45 minutes before the Empire Builder would finally leave Chicago!!

We were behind #7 by about 5 minutes on our Hiawatha back to Sturtevant,departing on time. 10 minutes out of Chicago, our Hiawatha made an unscheduled stop in Morton Grove . We sat for 30 minutes!!!! Then our conductor told us #7 was just ahead of us with a mechanical breakdown!!!! He then told us, we were going to back up to Mayfair Junction and crossover to get around it.

We backed up to Mayfair and sat for a few minutes, before going forward again... but we didn't crossover!!!! We went back to Morton Grove and stopped again!!! A few minutes passed, when the eastbound Empire Builder shot past us; then an eastbound Hiawatha; then an eastbound metra commuter train!!! I then assumed the dispatcher wanted to get these trains out of the way before we could crossover and continue.

We finally crossed over a few miles up the pike and passed the disabled Empire Builder!!!! After having been held in Chicago for us to arrive and then having a breakdown less than ten miles out of the station, I can only imagine  the tension and anger on that train!!! 

We arrived in Sturtevant almost 2 hours late!!!!! I tried to put on a good face, but needless to say, my family was amtraked out!!!!

Despite the experience, I am planning our next train trip...but my wife has asked that I give her a couple of summers without any trains!!! We'll see......

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