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Dan Chazin's Trip on the Amtrak Capitol Limited & NortheastDirect
Chicago-Washington-New York
TrainWeb.com/travelogues/dchazin/1998k27a/1998l05a.html

It's 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, December 5, 1998, and I've just arrived at the Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station where I will be boarding Train #30, the Capitol Limited, on my way to Washington, D.C. This will be the third leg of my trans- continental trip on Amtrak which started last Monday in Los Angeles, where I boarded the Coast Starlight to Portland. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, I connected with the Empire Builder to Chicago, where I arrived on Thursday afternoon. I spent an enjoyable two days with my cousins Debbie and Aaron in Chicago, and now I'm finally returning home.

My cousin Aaron drove me over to the Metra Edgebrook station, where I caught the 7:13 p.m. train on the Fox Lake line to Union Station. The train had only one car open, since patronage was rather sparse this Saturday evening. I was the only passenger boarding at the Edgebrook station. We arrived on Track 7 in Union Station at 7:41 p.m., two minutes late. I detrained and walked over to the Metropolitan Lounge. As soon as I arrived there and presented my ticket, I was told that the boarding of my train has already commenced. So I followed the attendant over to Track 24, where our train was parked. (On the adjacent Track #22, which shares the same platform, the Cardinal, scheduled to depart at 8:10 p.m., was boarding.) I have been assigned Room #10 on the front sleeper #32079, named Georgia. I boarded the train, stored my heavy luggage downstairs, and brought my backpack and other small items up to my room. Then I walked down along the platform to record the consist.

Tonight's Capitol Limited includes two new Genesis engines, a baggage car, a transition crew dorm car, three Superliner I coaches (one of which has a smoking section downstairs), a Superliner II Sightseer Lounge, a diner and two Superliner II sleepers. I notice that passengers are boarding only the rear two coaches; the first coach is not being used for passengers boarding in Chicago. I also noticed that the two sleepers are facing opposite directions -- in my sleeper, the deluxe bedrooms are to the rear, while in the rear sleeper, they are in the front of the car.

While waiting for our train to depart, I noticed the southbound City of New Orleans leaving the station. Its equipment is essentially identical to that of the Empire Builder that I was on last week, with the exception that this trainset has two sleepers in front, in addition to the one in the rear.

The Cardinal pulled out at 8:12 p.m., and then we followed at 8:16 p.m. Five minutes later, we came to a stop a short distance outside the station. I walked to the back of the train and watched as five mail/express cars (one baggage car, three MHC's and one express car) were added to the rear of the train. We stopped here for 23 minutes and didn't start moving again until 8:44 p.m.

About this time, an announcement was made that sleeping car passengers should go to the dining car for dinner. Upon arriving there, I was seated opposite a couple returning home to Washington, D.C. from a trip to California and Kansas, and next to a man from Florida who had traveled to Los Angeles and Chicago to visit relatives. I noticed that -- probably, because of the late hour that dinner is served on this train -- the dinner choices are much lighter meals than are served on the other trains that I've traveled on. My beef dinner was just fine. We had a very nice conversation over dinner, with the man next to me mentioning that the Southwest Chief he had taken to Chicago several days ago was delayed at a number of points en route, and ended up arriving in Chicago about eight hours late. The other people at the table enjoyed my comments about Amtrak and the various trains that I had taken. During dinner, we stopped briefly in Hammond-Whiting, Indiana.

After dinner, I returned to my room, and did some work while listening on the scanner to the progress of our train. We stopped and slowed down quite a few times, and I often heard the engineer trying to call the Chicago East or Toledo West dispatchers. Our next stop was South Bend, Indiana, where we were scheduled to arrive at 11:18 p.m. (Eastern Time). But due to our slow running and frequent stops, we did not arrive there until 12:11 a.m., nearly an hour late. Our stop here lasted only about a minute or two, as did our stop at Elkhart, 18 minutes later.

The attendant came by and asked when I wanted him to make up my bed and when he should wake me up, but I replied that I could make my bed myself and certainly did not need a wake-up call. I continued doing some work until about 1:00 a.m., when I decided to go to sleep. I made up the bed and climbed in, but was still awake when we arrived at Waterloo, Indiana at 1:20 a.m. We made three stops here -- for an engine crew change, for coach passengers and for sleeping car passengers -- and left six minutes later. We were now 48 minutes late.

I fell asleep for awhile, but awoke when we arrived at Toledo at 2:42 a.m. Our stop here (which is a service stop for the train) lasted for 19 minutes. We also made brief stops at Elyria (4:26 a.m.) and Cleveland (5:06 a.m.). We were an hour late when we left Cleveland. We continued to lose time, and did not arrive at our next stop, Alliance, until 6:48 a.m., one hour and 23 minutes late. While I woke up for all of these stops, I did sleep for much of the ride in between the various stops.

Finally, at 7:30 a.m. I got out of bed, took a shower, and returned to my room. At 8:00 a.m., we reached Beaver Falls, Pa., and for the rest of our way into Pittsburgh we paralleled the Ohio River, which was visible from my room. This was a very scenic stretch of the route. On the scanner, I heard that Train #40, the Three Rivers, was right behind us.

About 8:15 a.m., I went to the dining car for breakfast. The dining car was quite empty, and I was seated opposite a man from Baltimore who was on his way back from Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he had been teaching at the University of North Dakota. He mentioned that when he boarded the Empire Builder in Grand Forks on Friday night, sheets of ice which had formed on the train started falling off. He also told me that his train had been delayed south of Milwaukee by children playing on the tracks.

My breakfast was served promptly, and I finished it very quickly, since at 8:35 a.m., we crossed the Ohio River and pulled into Penn Station in Pittsburgh. I got off, recorded the numbers of the cars that had been added at the rear of the train after we departed Chicago, and briefly walked down into the station, a rather unattractive facility in the basement of an adjacent building. (The original magnificent station building still exists, but it has unfortunately been converted to luxury apartments and is no longer open to the public.) Then I reboarded the train, but we did not depart until 9:01 a.m., apparently because express material had to be unloaded from one of the cars at the rear of the train. We were now precisely an hour and a half late, having lost even more time during our stop in Pittsburgh.

I once again walked through the train. The first coach was now occupied by only a handful of people, and there were quite a few empty seats in the second coach, which was being used for passengers not going the entire way from Chicago to Washington. The rear coach, reserved for Chicago-to-Washington passengers, was quite full, but the Sightseer Lounge was almost entirely empty. (Interestingly, there were quite a few passengers in the lounge car last night when a movie was being shown.) I counted about 75 coach passengers on the train. Then the On-Board Chief made an announcement that he would be checking as to the status of the connection that is supposed to be made by passengers traveling to Florida. The connection is to Train #91, the Silver Star, scheduled to leave Washington at 4:30 p.m., and given our lateness so far, it is not clear whether this connection will be made.

Leaving Pittsburgh, we first traverse an industrial area along the Yougheigheiny River, and then continue through a scenic residential area, with the river to our right. Soon, we leave virtually all traces of civilization behind. We continue running right along the beautiful river, with the abandoned grade of the Western Maryland Railroad -- now converted to a rail-trail -- on the other side of the river. The train was very quiet and peaceful. For much of the way, the river seemed quiet low, with many rocks visible.

I walked up to the first coach, nearly unoccupied, and spent some time sitting there. This was the first time on the entire transcontinental trip that I had spent any significant time sitting in a coach. (For the entire Empire Builder ride, and for most of the trip on the Coast Starlight, there were few, if any, empty pairs of seats in the coaches.)

Unfortunately, while getting my belongings together before departing on this trip, I had forgotten to take along my railroad atlas, Route Guide or any materials explaining the features along this part of the trip. Nor were any Route Guides provided in my room or anywhere else that I could find. I asked the On-Board Chief, and he said that if there were any, they would be in the lounge car. I looked there, and none were to be found. (Indeed, in the coaches, there were some card timetables, but they were for the Southwest Chief -- the wrong train!) Finally, I thought of looking in the rear sleeper, and I found one in an unoccupied room in that sleeper. However, the new, abbreviated Route Guide is virtually useless. Hardly any points of interest are described, and even the outstanding Sand Patch Grade is not mentioned at all! (In fact, the one comment given for the entire stretch from Pittsburgh to the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line is that "depending on the time of year, dawn may be breaking as you pass through [Connellsville, Pa.]." Aside from the fact that this tells the passenger nothing that he would not know without the guide, this statement is no longer correct, since the Capitol Limited now departs Chicago later than it used to, and even if the train is on time, dawn will be breaking no later than Pittsburgh!) Also, no announcements as to scenic points of interest were made by the On-Board Chief, the conductor, or anyone else. Nevertheless, having ridden this route once before in daylight, I was generally familiar with the features along the way.

At one point, the On-Board Chief announced that we will be arriving in Washington about 4:15 p.m. This assumes that we will not encounter any further delays on the way to Washington. Of course, if we do arrive at 4:15 p.m., passengers connecting to the Silver Star will be able to make their connection without any problem.

We stopped very briefly at Connellsville at 10:34 a.m. No one got off here, but about ten passengers got on. The station here is an unattractive Amshack, with a sign on the door stating that it will be unlocked 30 minutes before the train is scheduled to arrive. Inside, there are nothing more than plastic seats. Because of the very short stop, there was no opportunity to step off the train here.

On the way back to my room, I heard an attendant telling the On-Board Chief that a passenger on the train has been exposing himself. When I returned to my room, I heard on the scanner a request for the State Police to meet the train at Rockwood to remove this person. So this should delay us somewhat.

Then, at 11:10 a.m., I heard a defect detector at milepost 248.2 report that we have a hotbox on our train. I next heard the comment, "Mike, pick a good place to stop, and we'll check it out real quick." (We were now proceeding along the river, with little room to walk alongside the train to check out the alleged defect.) We proceeded ahead for another four minutes, and then the train stopped in a relatively flat area around a curve. The conductor got off and checked out the front axle in the crew sleeper (#39012), where the alleged defect was. No problem was found, and we soon continued moving ahead.

At 11:25 a.m., we passed through a tunnel, and then a branch line rejoined us from the right. Although I did not have it with me, I recalled an article in Railpace magazine about a low-grade line skirting the main line around here, and I assume that this is what I saw. We continued along the river, steadily gaining elevation. My room was on the right side of the train -- again, the "right side" for the views -- and I spent much of the time in my room, watching the beautiful scenery.

We came to a stop at 11:43 a.m. in Rockwood. However, on the scanner I hear that there is no police car at the Volunteer Fire Company, the place where they were supposed to meet us. So we wait until the police car arrives. In the meantime, I went down to the lounge car, where I could better observe what was taking place. While there, I started talking to a man who had come from Ottumwa, Iowa, and was headed to Kissimee, Florida. The purpose of the trip was, unfortunately, to fulfill a "make-a- wish" for his terminally ill young daughter to visit Disney World. He was also accompanied by two other young children who were with him in the lounge car.

Another man, hearing that they had come from Ottumwa, mentioned that he had recently been there to arrange for the cosmetic restoration of a steam locomotive on display at the Ottumwa station. He and his son are in the business of restoring old railway equipment, and had just come from Duluth, where they examined an old trolley car to be restored. Now they were headed for Washington where the wealthy person who had bought the car had engaged them to survey his property to determine how a stretch of track could be constructed on which the car could be run.

An announcement was made that we would be delayed here for five to ten minutes but, as might be expected, the reason for the delay was not announced. (Actually, many passengers -- particularly those who had encountered the person being removed from the train -- certainly knew what the cause of the delay was!) We ended up waiting about 25 minutes for the police to arrive. Finally, a police car pulled up, the person in question was removed by the police from the train, and we were able to proceed on our way at 12:12 p.m. We had been delayed for another half an hour by this incident. The delay is of no great concern to me, but it looks like those people connecting to the Silver Star on their way to Florida may not make their connection. I checked the timetable and pointed out to the man from Ottumwa that, if worse comes to worse, there is another train for Florida leaving Washington tonight at 11:00 p.m.

Right after we started moving, two westbound freight trains passed us in quick succession. It seems that they had been held while our train waited for the police at Rockwood, since the conductor and the passenger getting off the train had to cross the westbound track to reach the police car. At 12:25 p.m., I heard the defect detector at milepost 218.5 announce that we had no defects. We had covered only 30 miles in the last hour and 15 minutes! Then we passed through the town of Meyersdale, which features high trestles of the former Western Maryland Railroad spanning our line. This line, as mentioned, has now been converted to a rail-trail, and I noticed some people walking along the top of one of the trestles.

About ten minutes later, we passed through the Sand Patch Tunnel, having ascended over 1,400 feet from Connellsville, and we began our steep descent along the eastern slope of the mountains. The first call for lunch had been made about 40 minutes ago, so I decided to go to the dining car for lunch. I sat opposite a woman who was traveling home to Florida from Chicago, where she had spent a week. She came by train because she doesn't like to fly, and mentioned that since she often travels on short notice for business, for her first-class train travel is often cheaper than air travel. Next to me sat a man who was traveling from Chicago to a meeting in Washington. He has done extensive traveling by Amtrak, and recounted some of his trips. I wasn't all that hungry, but I enjoyed the fish meal I was served.

Just as I finished lunch, we arrived at Cumberland, Maryland at 1:29 p.m. Our stop lasted for only two minutes, but I did step off the train briefly here, since several passengers detrained and a few others boarded the train. When we left Cumberland, we were just a few minutes short of two hours late.

Ten minutes later, on the outskirts of Cumberland, we passed a MARC train, with an engine on each end, to our left. Of course, MARC trains do not normally operate beyond Martinsburg, so this must have been some sort of a special excursion train.

Soon, we started paralleling the Potomac River, this time to our left. Since my room was now on the "wrong" side of the train, I went to the Sightseer Lounge, where I watched as we ran along the river and through several tunnels. It was cloudy out, but at least it was not raining. I started talking to a young man who had flown yesterday from BWI Airport to Chicago for the sole purpose of taking this train back today. He also seemed to be enjoying the ride quite a bit. I brought my computer with me to the lounge car, and did some work on these memoirs while watching the scenery.

Our next stop was Martinsburg, W. Va., where we arrived at 2:58 p.m. I was able to step off the train here and take some video pictures of the new station built immediately adjacent to the old, historic Martinsburg station, built in 1847, and until recently the oldest railroad station in American in continuous use as such. I got off, along with several other passengers, from the second coach, but the ten-or-so boarding passengers were directed to walk ahead to the first coach, which was largely empty. Our stop last for only two minutes, and when we left at 3:00 p.m. we were one hour and 52 minutes late. However, there is about 20 minutes of make-up time built into the schedule, so it is likely that we will end up arriving in Washington at about 4:30 p.m. And, indeed, as soon as we left Martinsburg, an announcement was made that we would be arriving in Washington at 4:30 p.m., and that the Florida train would be held for connecting passengers.

I remained in the lounge car for the ride from Martinsburg to Harpers Ferry, where the train cuts across rolling farmland. Soon, we began again to run along the Potomac, and we arrived at the Harpers Ferry station at 3:21 p.m. Again, I stepped off the train here from the second coach, along with a family of three that was returning home from California. The three passengers who were boarding here were directed to the first coach, which was parked by the wooden walkway on the bridge. The attendant opened the door of that coach, and the passengers (and I) walked down along the bridge walkway to board that coach. The entire stop took little more than a minute. I remarked to the attendant (who, along with the conductor, was remarkably tolerant of my desire to step off the train at every stop) that this is the first time that I have seen passengers boarding a train from the walkway on this bridge -- which is posted by CSX with "no trespassing" signs.

I then returned to the lounge car, where I watched as we passed through and by the several tunnels along the Potomac River, and went by the historic station at Point of Rocks. Then I returned to my room, and gathered my belongings together, leaving out my computer, so I could continue writing these memoirs. We made a brief stop at Rockville, Maryland at 4:04 p.m. Soon an announcement was made that we will be pulling in on the same platform as Train #91, the southbound Silver Star, so that passengers who are making the connection will be able to do so merely by stepping across the platform. That means, of course, that we will be arriving on the lower level of the station.

We finally arrived on Track 25 at Washington Union Station at 4:28 p.m. It took the attendant of our car five minutes to unload all the luggage, and then I gathered my belongings and went straight upstairs to the Metropolitan Lounge (since I arrived on a sleeper, I could use the facilities of the lounge even though I would be departing in coach). The advertising connection to the Capitol Limited is Train #148, leaving at 4:05 p.m., but we had obviously missed that train, so I would be taking the next Train #178, leaving at 5:35 p.m. I spent about half an hour using the lounge's computer to sign online and check my AOL mail. At about 5:15 p.m., the boarding of my train was announced, so I proceeded to Gate K, from where the train, on Track 27, would be boarding. There was a huge crowd gathered to board the train, and actual boarding did not start until 5:24 p.m. Somehow, everyone got on the train quite expeditiously, and we departed at 5:38 p.m., only three minutes late.

Tonight's train includes six Amfleet I coaches and a combination club car/dinette (with the club seats being sold as Custom Class). There is also a single material handling car at the rear of the train. Despite the rather crowded condition of the train, I succeeded in keeping two seats for myself. But I decided that I better not get up from my seat, lest it be taken by someone else. Some additional passengers boarded at New Carrollton, BWI Airport and Baltimore, but no one asked to sit next to me. Finally, after we left Baltimore, I got up and walked through the train. I found, to my surprise, that the first car of the train was open, but that hardly anyone was sitting there. Otherwise, though, there was at least one person sitting in almost every pair of seats in the other five coaches. I also walked down to the dinette car, where I purchased a blueberry muffin and a cup of tea. I sat down at a table to consume the food, but decided not to bring my computer back there, since there were no outlets by the tables, and the batteries in my computer were pretty low. (The car I was sitting in had been retrofitted with outlets at every seat.) So I returned to my seat, where I continued working on the Jewish Law book.

After stopping at Aberdeen (where only one set of doors opened) and Wilmington, we arrived at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia at 7:35 p.m. The conductor announced that we are scheduled to remain here until 7:48 p.m., so that anyone who so wishes could go out to the platform. I did so, and also walked upstairs to the magnificent concourse (as I normally do). A number of people boarded the train at Philadelphia, but at least as many got off, and there were ample seats for all boarding passengers.

When we left Trenton at 8:19 p.m., I decided to go back to the dinette car and spent the rest of the trip there. By now, my batteries were sufficiently charged that I didn't have to plug the computer in. I found an unoccupied table and continued working on the Jewish Law book. After we left Newark, I went back to my seat and got ready to detrain.

We arrived at Penn Station, New York two minutes early at 9:13 p.m. I took the elevator up to the lower concourse and then went over the 8th Avenue Subway, where I took the train one stop to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There, I caught the 10:00 p.m. #167 bus, which I took back to Teaneck.

The Capitol Limited trip was a fitting climax to a wonderful transcontinental train journey. Although this was one route I had traveled on previously, it was only the second time that I had taken this train eastbound. The scenery was truly magnificent, in keeping with what I had experienced on each one of the three trains I had taken. I found it truly amazing that one could travel all the way from Pittsburgh to Washington by train and not go through any large city! The crew of the train was also quite friendly and cooperative, and the passengers were very convivial.

The last leg of the trip from Washington to New York was sort of an anti-climax, since it was completely dark out for the entire trip, and I had traveled this route many times before. Moreover, the relatively cramped Amfleet I equipment on this train was quite a contrast to the spacious Superliner coaches that were on all the other trains on my transcontinental trip. Nevertheless, I did get a fair amount of work done on this train, and the presence of the dinette car was very welcome.

Many more rail travelogues for you to read:
Dan Chazin / Other Writers


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