Dan Chazin's Trip on Amtrak's NortheastDirect & Capitol Limited
It's about 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 20, 1999, and we've
just arrived at Penn Station in New York where we will soon be
boarding Northeast Direct Train #195 on our way to Washington.
This will be the first leg of our train trip to Denver, where we
will be renting vans to visit various national parks in the West.
I got a ride to Penn Station with the family of Seth, who is one
of the boys going on the trip, and we met Asher W., another of
the participants, at the station. We parked across the street
and carried our luggage into the station, putting it down in an
area near Tracks 7 and 8. I thought of going to the waiting
area, but since we didn't have that long to wait for the train,
we decided to stay where we were.
Soon, we heard an announcement that the 10:20 a.m. train to
Washington is ready for boarding on Track 15. We actually could
have taken this train instead, but since other people from our
group were getting on the train in Newark and Metropark, this was
not a realistic option. So we waited for our 11:10 a.m. train.
About 10:30 a.m., I decided to go down and see if I could
figure out what track our train would be leaving from. I checked
all Tracks from 5 through 14, and found only one train that fit
the description of what our train should look like -- the train
on Track 13. But most of the doors on that train were closed,
and no Amtrak personnel were on hand to verify that this was
indeed our train. The 11:00 a.m. Metroliner was on the adjacent
Track 14, but the crew of that train were unable to confirm
whether the train on Track 13 was ours. So I went back upstairs.
The call for boarding the 11:00 a.m. Metroliner was made at
about 10:40 a.m. Finally, at about 10:50 a.m., I went down again
to Track 13, and this time the crew was already on the train and
they confirmed that it was indeed Train #195. So I went upstairs
again, got everyone to help transport our equipment, and
proceeded downstairs via the lower level to Track 13. Today's
train is pulled by an AEM-7 engine and has 6 cars -- a
combination club/custom class car in the rear, a cafe car without
tables, and four Amfleet I coaches, all but the first of which
have been retrofitted for handicapped accessibility. I decided
that it would be best for us to sit in the second car, with the
open area in front providing ample room for our baggage. After
all of our equipment was loaded on the train, I went back
upstairs to call the people that would be boarding in Newark and
Metropark and advise them that we would be in the front of the
second car on the train. By now, it was 11:00 a.m., and the
first boarding call for the train was just being made.
(Presumably, the boarding of our train was deliberately not
announced until the Metroliner on the adjacent Track 14 had
already departed.) On my way back down to the track, I noticed a
rather long line of people waiting for their tickets to be
inspected at the gate from the upper level to Track 13. I was
very glad that I had found our train well in advance of the track
announcement, thus giving us sufficient time to board the train
and secure appropriate seats.
We departed at 11:11 a.m., one minute late. When the
conductor came by to collect our tickets, I explained that my
ticket was for nine people, but that five members of our group
would be boarding in Newark and another person in Metropark. We
proceeded south to Newark on the northbound track, passing the
site of construction of the new Secaucus Transfer station.
(Presumably, one of the two tracks on this line is out of service
due to the construction of the new station.) At 11:25 a.m., we
pulled into the Newark station. Etan, Daniel and David were on
the platform at the appropriate location to board our car, but
Jonathan and Jeremy were nowhere to be seen. I was wondering
what could have happened to them when, after about a minute, I
noticed Jonathan's mother running down the platform towards the
train, with Jonathan and Jeremy following. They quickly boarded
the train, and we left at 11:27 a.m. Jonathan explained to me
that due to their late departure from Teaneck, his father was
speeding, and they were stopped by a policeman in Newark.
Apparently, they were soon allowed to proceed, but they just
barely made the train!
Our next stop, 15 minutes later, was Metropark, where
Michael and Asher R. boarded the train. They were there in
plenty of time, and everything went smoothly at this stop.
David soon starting talking to me about the historic B&O
line that we would be following on our journey on the Capitol
Limited. It turns out that he is also a real rail buff, and I
showed him some of the rail-related material I had brought along.
The boys brought out a deck of cards and started playing various
card games. Since there was no table seating available on this
train, they sat on our baggage on the floor for part of the time.
After we left Trenton at 12:07 p.m., I went back to the cafe
car, where I purchased a can of Pepsi. On the way, I noticed
that all of the coaches on the train, with the exception of the
first coach, were quite full, with someone sitting in almost
every pair of seats. I brought the soda back to my seat, where I
ate a bagel with whitefish salad that I had brought from home for
Around Philadelphia, it started raining, and the weather was
rather dreary for the rest of the trip. I stepped off the train
briefly at the 30th Street Station, where we spent two minutes
and left at 12:38 p.m. I took out some bills and wrote some
checks, while the boys sat at the baggage in the front of the
car, talking rather loudly.
We arrived in Baltimore at 1:44 p.m., five minutes early. I
went outside and took a picture. A number of people got on here,
and I suggested that they proceed to the first car, where there
were quite a few empty seats.
The rest of the ride to Washington was rather uneventful. I
noticed that, at each stop, the conductor made an announcement
which stated, in part: "Thank you for being our guests on Train
#195." Presumably, this is part of the new training for Amtrak
personnel, instructing them to be more courteous to passengers.
Actually, though, the announcements were not made with any
special enthusiasm, and the conductor just seemed to be reciting
a predetermined formula by rote.
After brief stops at BWI Airport and New Carrollton, we
arrived on Track 26 at Union Station in Washington at 2:28 p.m.,
seven minutes early. As we pulled into the station, I noticed
the consist of what appeared to be our Capitol Limited on Track
16, and recorded the numbers of the cars in the front of the
train. We unloaded our baggage and went upstairs (actually, we
had to make two trips to get all of our baggage upstairs). There
we met Todd, and soon we were joined by Jodi (the leader of our
group) and the 10 people who came from Silver Spring, and by
Mayer, who was in Washington on business and would be flying out
to Rapid City, South Dakota to meet us on Friday.
Our next order of business was to check most of the bulky
baggage that we had brought with us. Jodi's group brought over
quite a bit of baggage, and we took most of the baggage that we
had carried with us from New York and moved it over to the
portion of the ticket counter where baggage is checked. This is
the first time that I have ever checked baggage on a trip such as
this; our previous Boy Scout trips were to Raton, N.M., where
checked baggage service was not available until this year. The
people at the baggage counter were very nice; I kept on handing
them pieces of luggage, and they put the appropriate tags on it.
We ended up checking 35 pieces of luggage, which I thought to be
a very considerable number (although the agent assured me that
she has checked in much greater quantities of luggage for
groups!). The luggage-checking process took about half an hour,
which was not an undue amount of time under the circumstances.
By the time we finished, it was about 3:15 p.m. I then went to
the Customer Services office, where I requested that our group be
pre-boarded. We were told that we should move over to Gate B,
which we did. (The general boarding of the train was from Gate
Only a few minutes later, at 3:30 p.m., the first boarding
call for Train #29 was made. I immediately went over to the
attendant to point out that our group should be pre-boarded, and
soon we were escorted out to the train. We were asked to take
seats in the front of the first coach. By 3:45 p.m. -- with 20
minutes remaining to our scheduled departure time -- we were all
settled in our seats, and I went out to record the remainder of
the consist. I must say that I was very impressed with the
efficiency of the boarding process and with the fact that the
boarding process started over half an hour before the train was
scheduled to depart.
Today's Capitol Limited is pulled by two P-42 engines and
includes four MHC cars, a baggage car, a transition crew sleeper,
two Superliner II sleepers, a Superliner II Sightseer Lounge car,
a diner, a smoker coach, two coaches, another MHC car and three
express cars. I soon reboarded the train, and we departed only a
minute late at 4:06 p.m.
After the conductor collected our tickets, I went to the
lounge car, and watched the scenery from there for a while. I
explained to David the historical significance of the line from
Point of Rocks to Harpers Ferry. We made a brief stop at Harpers
Ferry at 5:13 p.m., and proceeded on our way towards Chicago.
I then moved back to the rear of the second coach where
there were a number of empty seats. I took out my computer and
continued working on these memoirs. Then I noticed that the
attendant started talking to a woman who walked with a cane and
was sitting in a nearby seat. He started apologizing for the
conduct of one of the conductors, who apparently had treated this
woman in a manner she felt was objectionable. It appeared that
this woman's husband works for Amtrak, and the attendant
commented how important customer service is, and how conductors
often cause problems dealing with passengers, while the on-board
service crew generally does a better job. The conversation was
rather interesting, and the woman stated that she intended to
make a complaint against the conductor when they arrived in
We now were approaching Martinsburg, W. Va. When I
indicated to the conductor that I would like to get off the train
here to take a picture, he said that I should follow him. We
actually arrived in Martinsburg five minutes early, at 5:36 p.m.
I stepped off the train and took several pictures of the old,
historic station with the new addition. But in less than a
minute, there was an "all-aboard" call, and we reboarded the
train. A few passengers got off here, but no one got on. We
then had to wait a few minutes for our scheduled departure time
of 5:41 p.m.
I was now joined in my "new" seat by David, who commented on
the historic roundhouse in a fenced-off area to our right. Soon,
the woman in the adjacent seat asked me to move back to my own
seat, stating that she found my "Amtrak radio" annoying. I
offered to turn off the scanner, but she said that she wanted me
to move, and would call the attendant if I didn't. So I moved
down to another vacant pair of seats in the car further away from
her. (I could see from this latter incident that this woman is
not an easy person to deal with, and this might explain the
incident with the conductor.)
After a while, I went back to our car, and found that Jodi
had gathered all the Scouts and was telling them that several
people had complained about their behavior on the train.
Subsequently, I found out from Jodi that the person who had the
most complaints was that very same woman who asked me to move
from the seat near her! I then went into the lounge car, where I
heard two attendants commenting on the behavior of our group.
They did not seem to be overly concerned with what they had seen.
I continued to watch the very attractive scenery between
Martinsburg and Cumberland, following the route in the SPV
We passed through the CSX freight yard and arrived in
Cumberland at 7:11 p.m. -- eight minutes early. About half a
dozen passengers got off the train here, and two passengers got
on. Since we had a few minutes to spend here, I got off the
train at the rear coach -- the only car on the train that was
opened for this stop. The train was stopped with the sleepers in
front of the station, and the last coach was about six car-
lengths in back of the station. The attendant explained that the
train could not pull further forward because it would then be
blocking the next grade crossing, but that the coaches are
usually in the front of the train (and the sleepers in the back),
so that the awkward situation that we were experiencing did not
occur. I walked down the platform to the station, which is a
small, unattractive modern building. (I understand that there
used to be a large station and adjacent hotel here, but that the
building was torn down some time ago and replaced with the
existing structure.) Soon I reboarded the train, and we departed
on time at 7:19 p.m.
Some time ago, an acquaintance on the Railroad List sent me
a booklet he had prepared which contains detailed information
regarding the ex-B&O line from Cumberland to Connellsville.
Included in this booklet is a set of detailed track diagrams for
this entire section of the line. So I went to the lounge car
where David and I followed the route north of Cumberland using
these track diagrams. They were very interesting and helped us
find a number of points of interest.
We had been assigned a 7:30 p.m. sitting. But the dining
car was running a little late, and by 8:00 p.m., we had not been
called for dinner. The boys were getting rather hungry and
somewhat restless, so about 8:05 p.m. I went into the diner, and
was informed that there were now 16 seats available in the coach
section of the diner (the side nearest the coaches), and that the
other four members of our group could be seated at the sleeper
side. (On this train, sleeping car passengers were assigned to
the side of the dining car nearest their cars, while coach
passengers were assigned to the other side of the diner.) So we
all went into the diner and were promptly seated.
During the meal, we continued our climb up the Sand Patch
Grade, went through the Sand Patch Tunnel, and then descended the
west slope along the Casselman River. This is an extraordinarily
beautiful stretch of track, and I followed the route in the
booklet to some extent (although I was mainly eating dinner and
did not check the booklet constantly). We passed several freight
trains (including one proceeding westbound, the same direction as
we were proceeding). At the conclusion of the meal, I remained
in the diner for a few minutes and talked to the steward, who was
very interested in our group and the plans for our trip. I
complimented him for the superior job that the dining car crew
Previously, the batteries in my computer had begun to run
low, and I found a plug next to a seat occupied by another member
of our group and plugged my computer in there. By now, the
batteries were recharged, so I took my computer to the second
coach, sat down in one of the pairs of unoccupied seats, and
continued to work on these memoirs. It was very quiet in this
car, and it was a very relaxing place to work. It was now
getting dark, and there was little to be seen out the window. We
had managed to cover most of this very beautiful scenery --
probably the most scenic Amtrak route east of the Mississippi --
while it was still light out.
We stopped at the Amshack in Connellsville, Pa. at 9:53 p.m.
This unattractive facility is nothing more than a metal and
plastic shack, with plastic seats inside. A few people got on
and off. We were now about 15 minutes late, and this is the
first time on the trip that we departed a station more than a
minute or so late. We could certainly make up the time, but I
sort of doubt that we will.
Since it was completely dark out now, I decided to do some
work on the index to the a trail guidebook that I was working on.
I went down to the lower level of the lounge car, where I was
able to spread out my papers on a table, and purchased a cup of
lemon tea. I spent over an hour there, then returned to my seat
and watched us creep rather slowly into Pittsburgh, where we
finally arrived at 11:38 p.m., only four minutes late.
I got off the train here and walked down to the front of the
train. Although we were scheduled to spend about 20 minutes
here, I did not go down into the station. However, I noticed
that a phone booth was recently installed in the front of the
platform, and I used that phone to check my messages. Then I
reboarded the train. On the scanner, I heard that various
problems were being checked by maintenance people, and as a
result we did not leave Pittsburgh until 12:13 a.m., fourteen
I did a little more work on my index, and then decided to go
to sleep. I was one of the few people in my group that had
brought my sleeping bag onto the train (rather than checking it
as part of my baggage), so I went down to the lower level of my
car to retrieve it. It came in quite handy, since our car was
air conditioned and rather cool. (In fact, some of the other
boys thought it was uncomfortably cold!) By contrast, the other
cars were rather warm. Since our car was completely full, I
thought of trying to stretch out on a pair of unoccupied seats in
one of the two rear coaches, but by this time, every seat in the
second car was occupied by at least one person, and the attendant
in the rear car told me that he thought I should be spending the
night with my boys to supervise them. So I went back to my seat.
It took a while, but I finally found a position that was
reasonably comfortable, and managed to fall asleep for at least a
I was awake when we arrived in Alliance, Ohio at 2:03 a.m.
When we left at 2:06 a.m., we were 28 minutes late. Then I fell
asleep again, and awoke as we were approaching Cleveland, where
we arrived at 3:44 a.m. I decided to step off the train here.
Noting that we were about an hour late, the attendant blamed the
delay on Norfolk Southern, the new owner of this section of our
route. The conductor said that we could make up some time before
we arrive in Chicago, but I indicated that, if anything, we would
probably lose more time.
When we left Cleveland at 3:50 a.m., I retrieved my
computer, walked into the lounge car, and updated these memoirs.
Then I went back to my seat, where I fell asleep again. I slept
through our scheduled stop at Elyria, but woke up as we pulled
into the Toledo station at 5:40 a.m. I walked down to the
platform and saw switcher engine #1201 remove from our train the
four rear MHC/express cars, and add another MHC car to the back
of the train. The Toledo station, built in the early 1950s, has
a number of tracks that are not used for passenger service but
which are ideally located for the storage and loading of express
cars. As a result, Toledo has become a major center for Amtrak
express shipments, and our scheduled dwell time of 35 minutes
allows for the switching of cars on and off the train here.
I walked into the station, where -- for the first time -- I
noticed on the wall some historical pictures of the Toledo
station throughout the years. Interestingly, it seemed that the
old station that was replaced by the Toledo Central Union
Terminal in the early 1950s would have been just about the right
size for today's Toledo station, were this station still in
existence! I soon reboarded the train, and we pulled out at 6:12
a.m. We had made up a considerable amount of time, and were now
only 35 minutes late. I guess it is really possible for us to
arrive in Chicago no more than a few minutes late.
Many of the passengers who had been sitting in the second
coach got off at Toledo, leaving quite a few empty seats, so I
brought some of my materials back there and did some more work on
the Harriman book. We were now passing through an area of farms
and small communities, with some interesting old stations along
the way. At 6:41 a.m., I noticed a quaint old station in the
small community of Wauseon. And about 15 minutes later we passed
through Bryan, an Amtrak stop, but not a scheduled stop on this
We now crossed into Indiana, which operates on Eastern
Standard Time, which is equivalent to Central Daylight Time. So
we moved our watches back by one hour. Our next stop was
Waterloo, Indiana, where we arrived at 6:21 a.m. The old station
here has been restored, but it is not used by Amtrak, which
instead boards passengers at a plastic-and-metal Amshack a little
to the west of the old station. Our stop lasted two minutes, and
we were still only a little more than half an hour late.
I continued sitting in the second coach, which still had
many vacant seats (although the boarding passengers in Waterloo
were assigned to sit in this car). I fell asleep for a few
minutes, but was awakened by the announcement of our next stop,
Elkhart. I walked down to the lower level of the rear coach,
where I discovered that a hotbox detector had just gone off, and
we had to stop the train to check what went wrong. Fortunately,
it appears that all that was wrong was that an HEP cable on the
rear MHC was hanging too low, and that was easily fixed by the
conductor. A few minutes later, at 7:13 a.m., we pulled into the
station at Elkhart, and made a very brief stop to pick up and
discharge several passengers.
Our next stop was at 7:31 a.m., at South Bend, Indiana. The
station here is a rather unattractive cinder block building.
Between the train and the station there are a set of tracks
formerly used by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad,
an interurban line, but it appears that these tracks are no
longer used for this purpose, and the catenary wire has been
removed. We proceeded westward through a rather bleak industrial
area, and at 7:45 a.m. we passed the eastbound Pennsylvanian.
Soon, I decided to get something to eat, so I went down to the
lower level of the lounge car, where I purchased a jar of orange
juice and a cup of coffee.
At 8:05 a.m., we came to a stop and waited for a while until
an eastbound freight train passed us about 15 minutes later.
Then, at 8:45 a.m., we slowed down and stopped several times
because of problems with signals. So we lost some more time, but
we still arrived at Hammond-Whiting, Indiana at 9:04 a.m., less
than an hour late. We stopped here for about three minutes,
since the conductor wanted to check out one car of the train, so
I had the opportunity briefly to step off the train. We started
moving three minutes later, but I immediately heard on the
loudspeaker a call to the conductor to stop the train, since a
passenger had forgotten to get off. The train came to a halt,
the passenger got off, and we moved on. It really amazed me that
someone would have failed to get off the train, in view of the
repeated announcements that had been made, but the attendant said
that this always happens at Hammond-Whiting for some reason.
When we left Hammond-Whiting, an announcement was made that
the lounge car and smoking lounge were closed for cleaning, and
that all passengers should return to their seats. I went back to
my seat in the car with the rest of the Scouts, and put together
my various belongings in preparation for our arrival at Chicago.
Soon, the lounge car attendant came by and asked for Jodi. She
asked Jodi to accompany her to the lounge car, where she
presented her with a box of Father's Day mugs, to be distributed
to the fathers of all the boys on the trip! We all thought that
this was a really nice gesture on her part.
At 9:34 a.m., we stopped a short distance outside of Union
Station and waited for a few minutes until the International to
Toronto -- pulled by a VIA engine but made up of five Amtrak
Superliner cars -- passed us to the left. Then we proceeded and
soon again came to a stop while the rear MHC car was detached
from our train. Next, we moved forward onto the westward BNSF
line, then backed up into the station. But for some reason, we
ended up on the wrong track, and we had to go forward again and
then once more back up. Finally, after making a safety stop, we
pulled in to Track 24 at 10:12 a.m. We had wasted about half an
hour with our complicated back-up moves (which are presumably
necessary, since this same trainset leaves this afternoon as the
Southwest Chief), but even so, we ended up arriving in Chicago
only 37 minutes late. Based on the past week's performance of
this train, I had feared much worse!
We detrained and walked into the station. I inquired at the
Customer Services office as to whether we could store our luggage
in an adjacent room, but was informed that that room was being
used today for some other purpose, and we would therefore have to
use the storage lockers. Fortunately, we had checked most of our
luggage, so we were able to fit all of our remaining belongings
(except for small backpacks that we carried with us to the
museum) in three large lockers. We then walked over to State
Street, where we caught the #6 bus that took us to the Museum of
Science and Industry.
Our trip on the Capitol Limited worked out pretty well, all
things considered. The crew was generally quite friendly, and
our arrival in Chicago was reasonably on time, especially in
light of the recent history of lateness of the train. The
behavior of the boys on the train was not perfect, but it was not
too bad, either. Most of the boys enjoyed the trip, and I was
able to spend a good deal of time doing the things that I would
normally do on a train ride of this sort. Hopefully, our train
ride to Denver this evening will work out at least as well!
Many more rail travelogues for you to read:
Dan Chazin /
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