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Daniel Chazin's Trip to Los Angeles: Part One

It's about 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 27, 2000, and I've just arrived at Penn Station in Newark for my first Amtrak trip of this millennium. I will be taking a Northeast Direct train to Washington, where I will connect with the Capitol Limited to Chicago. I had reservations on Train #95, scheduled to leave at 11:25 a.m., but my friend Geraldine picked me up at 9:30 a.m., and we arrived in plenty of time to make the earlier 10:36 a.m. train.

After entering the main waiting room, I obtained my ticket from a ticket machine. I had made my reservations for the trip via Amtrak's web site on the Internet, and had already purchased my tickets with a credit card. When I tried inserting the Visa card that I had used to purchase the tickets, the machine said that the card appeared to be invalid. So I tried using my Master Card instead. This card worked, and merely by entering the reservation number, I was able to obtain the prepaid tickets. (This is an interesting feature of the Amtrak ticket machines which I learned a few months ago -- you need not insert the same card you used to purchase the tickets; rather, any credit card will work, as long as you enter the correct reservation number.) Since my train was not scheduled to depart until 10:36 a.m., I decided to wait for a while in the beautifully restored main waiting room. I noticed on the departures board that a number of northbound trains were significantly delayed. One Northeast Direct train from Washington to Boston, which had been scheduled to arrive in Newark at 8:34 a.m., was running two hours late, and the Silver Meteor, scheduled to arrive at 9:18 a.m., was reported to be three hours late.

At about 10:25 a.m., I decided to go upstairs to the waiting room between Tracks 3 and 4. A few minutes later, the delayed 8:34 a.m. northbound train arrived on Track 2. I walked over to the train arrival monitors at the end of the waiting area, and noticed that my Train #185 was shown as "delayed." But soon, at 10:35 a.m., an announcement was made that the train had just left Penn Station in New York, and would be arriving in Newark in about 12 minutes.

Our train finally arrived on Track 3 at 10:45 a.m. Today's Train #185 is pulled by engine #934, painted in the new, very bland, Acela colors, and seven Amfleet coaches, none of which are refurbished into the new Acela scheme. There are two food service cars without tables on the train, but only one of them is being used for food service. I boarded the fifth car of the train, where there were plenty of empty pairs of seats. After we departed, I walked through the train and counted a total of about 140 passengers in the seven cars of the train (with a total capacity of over 400 passengers).

The first part of the trip to Washington was quite uneventful -- with one exception. The ground was covered with snow, and the blowing snow got into all the vestibules, which became coated in white. In some cases, the electronically- operated doors did not close tightly, and several inches of snow accumulated in the vestibules between the cars, making the walk between the cars rather treacherous. I was wearing my snow boots on the train, and they really came in handy when walking from car to car! I took a picture of the vestibule of my car with my video camera when we arrived at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. I did briefly step off the train here, but since we were still running a few minutes late, I didn't walk upstairs, as I sometimes do. When we left Philadelphia at 11:54 a.m., we were nine minutes late.

After our stop in Wilmington at 12:15 p.m., I went to the cafe car, got a cup of coffee, and took it back to my car, where I had lunch. I had brought a tuna fish sandwich from home, and ate the lunch at a different pair of seats so as to avoid any possibility of the coffee spilling on my computer. Then, at 12:30 p.m., just north of the Bacon Interlocking, we started slowing down considerably. The conductor promptly made an announcement over the public address system as to the reason for the delay, but the announcement was inaudible, so I went back to the last car to ask the conductor what was happening. He explained that the line here was single-tracked due to switching problems associated with the cold weather and snow, and that we had to wait for two northbound trains to pass. The two trains passed us in rather quick succession, and within ten minutes we were moving again, (Parenthetically, I should add that the conductors on this train were very friendly and were extremely diligent about making the announcement of the reason for our delay.)

We arrived in Baltimore at 1:11 p.m. During our station stop here, I heard the conductor requesting that when we arrive in Washington, we be assigned a track with a high-level platform, since the vestibules of the cars were all full of snow, thus making it very difficult for passengers to detrain at a low-level platform, where they would have to descend the snow-covered steps. When we departed three minutes later, we were only 15 minutes late (I had thought that our stop to let the northbound trains pass would have resulted in our being even later than this).

Our next stop was BWI Airport, where we arrived at 1:27 p.m. Here, we passed the northbound Metroliner #114, which radioed us that a door on the east side of the train (not facing the platform) was open. It seems that the exact opposite problem was occurring on the other side of the train, since I heard on the scanner that some doors would not open and that passengers detraining here had to be escorted to other doors. As a result, our stop here lasted for four minutes, and we were 19 minutes late when we departed.

Apparently, the open door was not easily closed. First, I heard the assistant conductor being asked to go to the rear to assist in closing the door. Then I heard the conductor tell the engineer to bring the train to a safe stop so that the door could be closed. At 1:37 p.m., just north of the Odenton MARC station, we paused for a minute. The conductors finally succeeded in closing the door, and we were soon on our way again.

After stopping at New Carrollton, we arrived on Track 23 at Washington Union Station at 2:01 p.m., sixteen minutes late. Despite our conductor's request for a high-level platform, we had been assigned a low-level platform on the lower level of the station. The steps at the end of my car were, of course, covered with several inches of snow. Thankfully, the conductor, Mr. Clark, assisted me by handing my two pieces of luggage to an employee on the platform. I usually don't need such assistance, but it would have been very dangerous to attempt to descend the snow-covered, slippery steps without carefully holding on to the railings. I walked down the platform and took the escalator up to the station, where I went over to the Metropolitan Lounge.

My trip from New York to Washington was quiet and relatively uneventful, but the presence of the snow in the vestibules added a little interest to the trip. Now I am looking forward to the first long-distance part of my trip -- Washington to Chicago on the Capitol Limited.

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