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Dan Chazin's Trip on Amtrak's NortheastDirect & Capitol Limited
New York-Washington-Chicago

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 lunch.

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 D.)

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 Chicago.

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 Railroad Atlas.

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 had done.

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 minutes late.

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 little while.

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 train.

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!

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