It's about 2:05 p.m. on Thursday, January 27, 2000, and I've just arrived at Washington Union Station on Northeast Direct Train #185. Soon I will be boarding Train #29, the Capitol Limited, on my way to Chicago.
I proceeded immediately to the Metropolitan Lounge, where I was welcomed by the attendant on duty and informed that the boarding call for my train, scheduled to depart at 4:05 p.m., will probably be made at about 3:40 p.m. After checking my phone messages and making some phone calls, I signed onto AOL, using a phone with a data port in the back of the lounge. (Unlike the situation in other Metropolitan Lounges, you could not make even local calls from this phone without a credit card, so I had to use AOL's 800 number.) I sent the story of my trip from New York to various friends, and then I downloaded all of my messages for subsequent reading on the train. Next, I walked out to the main station and went into the Great Train Store. I didn't buy anything, but was pleased to see that although the emphasis at this store increasingly appears to be model trains and "choo- choo" trains for little kids, there was a very good selection of SPV Rail Atlases available. I then walked into the main hall and, about 3:30 p.m., returned to the Metropolitan Lounge to await the boarding call for my train.
A boarding announcement was made at 3:42 p.m., and we proceeded through the west door of the lounge to Track 16. I was greeted by Cliff, the attendant of my car #2901, and left my belongings in my Room #3. Then I walked down the length of the platform to record the consist of the train.
Today's Capitol Limited is led by Genesis P-42 engine #31, with F-40 #275 trailing. It includes a baggage car, a transition crew sleeper, regular coach #34065, a smoking coach, a Superliner II Sightseer Lounge car, a diner, two sleepers, three express cars, and an MHC at the rear. Interesting, engine #31 was on the Capitol Limited the last time I took it, in June 1999 (as was coach #34065). And my sleeper, Superliner I #32066, was on the inaugural run of the Kentucky Cardinal last month! The other sleeper, the Superliner II car Florida, was at least half full, but my sleeper was almost entirely empty, with only three economy rooms being occupied by passengers leaving Washington. At one point, I was informed that there were only 19 sleeping car passengers on the entire train. Clearly, all the passengers could easily have been accommodated in one sleeper.
Soon after we departed Washington at 5:07 p.m., two minutes late, Cliff came by to explain that there was soda and orange juice available for passengers in the car, and that ice was placed in a crate in Room #4, opposite my room. Then the On- Board Chief came by to take my dinner reservation. I made a reservation for the 6:30 p.m. sitting.
We encountered a slow order just after Silver Spring and, as a result, we were ten minutes late for our stop at Rockville. We paused here for less than a minute and were soon on our way. Since it would soon get dark, I decided to go the Sightseer Lounge car, where I could get the best view of the beautiful scenery. I stayed there until after Harpers Ferry, watching the train pass by snow-covered fields and small towns. Although I have been along this portion of the Capitol Limited route many times before, I always enjoy seeing it again, and the snow made the scenery particularly interesting. I took some pictures with my video camera of the passing scenery. I also walked through the coaches, which were about two-thirds full. A copy of the manifest that I saw indicated that there were about 90 coach passengers aboard.
After we departed Harpers Ferry at 5:25 p.m., I walked back to my room and updated these memoirs. I also took some video pictures as we stopped at Martinsburg, W. Va. Although we made two stops here (to permit a couple to board my sleeper), I did not attempt to get off the train to take a picture. It was pretty cold out, and it was getting dark. When we left Martinsburg at 5:52 p.m., we were eleven minutes late.
At about 6:40 p.m., I went to the dining car for dinner. On the way, I passed by an elderly woman in the first sleeper who was traveling to Sacramento and wanted her bed to be made up. The attendant was not in his room, so I offered to make up the bed for her. But as I was about to start, the attendant appeared and, of course, I let him take care of the woman's request.
When I arrived at the dining car, I was seated opposite a couple from St. Louis who were returning from a visit to the husband's sister in Alexandria. They had a deluxe bedroom, and were enjoying the trip very much. We had a very interesting conversation, and we enjoyed each other's company for the meal. During dinner, we made a brief stop at Cumberland.
About 7:50 p.m., I returned to my room, then walked through the train again. A movie was being shown in the lounge car, and it seemed that quite a number of people were watching it. When I came back to my room, the detector at milepost 218.5, near Garrett, Pa., reported that the temperature outside was 14ø. For part of the time, I turned off the lights in my room and watched as we went around the numerous curves that are found on this segment of the route.
I spent most of the remainder of the evening in my room, doing some work on my computer and catching up on some reading. I also obtained a can of orange juice from the supply in the car. My car was quiet, and the ride was uneventful. Indeed, we arrived at the Amshack in Connellsville at 9:37 p.m., two minutes early -- and left on time.
Although I couldn't see very much out the window, listening to the scanner gave me some idea where we were. Before I knew it, we passed through the Panther Hollow Tunnel, joined the Norfolk Southern (former PRR) tracks, and arrived at Penn Station in Pittsburgh at 11:10 p.m. -- twenty-four minutes early! Other than the slow orders leaving Washington, we had encountered no delays along the route. This was rather amazing, especially considering that quite a few freight trains passed us along the way. It looks like CSX may be beginning to get its act together.
Since we were not scheduled to depart until 11:59 p.m., I detrained (for the first time since we left Washington) and walked down into the rather undistinguished basement station. I checked my phone messages, mailed a few letters, and then went back upstairs, reboarding the train about 11:30 p.m. The attendant had been asking whether I wanted him to make my bed, so I decided to have him do so at this point. Since the car was virtually empty, I moved some of my belongings, including my computer, to the adjacent Room #5, and sat down there, updating these memoirs. By 11:45 p.m., I heard over the scanner that both mechanical and baggage work had been completed. But, of course, we could not depart until our scheduled time of 11:59 p.m.
When we departed Pittsburgh at midnight, I went back to my room, which the attendant had made up for night occupancy, and climbed into bed. I watched as we crossed the Ohio River, with the skyline of Pittsburgh in the background, and then began to parallel the river. It took me a while to fall asleep, though. I was still awake when we arrived at Alliance, Ohio, at 1:36 a.m., two minutes early, and departed there on time. Shortly after we left Alliance, I finally fell asleep.
I next awoke about 2:50 a.m., during our station stop in Cleveland. Over the scanner, I heard the dispatcher telling our train that we should wait about five minutes past our scheduled departure time of 2:49 a.m., since there were several passengers who had driven from Akron and were almost at the station. The engineer (or conductor) of our train protested, commenting that we were now running on time, but if we waited for these passengers, we would miss our "window," and further delays would ensue. However, the dispatcher then stated that the passengers were already in the station parking lot, and it seems that we did wait for them, since we did not depart Cleveland until 2:55 a.m., six minutes late.
I promptly fell asleep again, and slept through the scheduled stop in Elyria. I next awoke at about 4:50 a.m., when we came to a stop on the bridge over the Maumee River leading into Toledo. Here we sat without moving for half an hour. Since I did not have my scanner programmed to the correct channel, I was unable to hear any communications related to our train. Finally, at 5:20 a.m., an eastbound single-level Amtrak train, headed by Genesis P-42 engine #70, passed us to the left. I subsequently found out that this was the Lake Shore Limited, scheduled to depart Toledo at 12:50 a.m. but delayed for over four hours due to problems with head-end power. Due to the present configuration of the Toledo station, it can accommodate only one train at a time, so even though we were ready to pull into the station no later than our scheduled arrival time of 5:02 a.m., we had to wait for the Lake Shore to depart before we could enter the station. We finally arrived at the Toledo station at 5:25 a.m.
I remained awake for a few minutes, and at one point felt the jolt of additional cars being coupled onto the rear of our train. I fell asleep again before we left Toledo, and finally woke up for good about 7:20 a.m. By now, we were using a channel that had been programmed into my scanner, and I heard that we were about to approach our next stop, Waterloo, Indiana. I also heard a defect detector announce that we now had 104 axles (or 26 cars) on our train. That is a significant increase from the 56 axles, or 14 cars (including the two engines) that we had until now, and resulted from the coupling on of a number of additional freight cars in the rear of the train. I also noticed that a copy of today's Toledo Blade -- whose masthead advertises it as "one of America's great newspapers" -- had been slipped under my door.
We arrived at Waterloo at 7:35 a.m., and when we departed six minutes later, we were 50 minutes late. Waterloo is a crew change point, so we made two stops here -- one to permit the engine crew to change, and the other for passengers and conductors. A small frame house adjacent to the station has been converted by Amtrak into a crew base.
After we left Waterloo, I went downstairs to take a shower. I observed that the conductor who boarded in Waterloo decided to appropriate the handicapped bedroom in my car as his office. When I went into the shower, I noticed that there was no soap available. I asked the conductor if he knew where there was any, but of course he didn't. However, the On-Board Chief soon showed up, and he woke up Cliff, my car attendant, who took out some soap. The water in the shower was at best lukewarm, but it was refreshing nonetheless. Then I went back upstairs and got dressed.
At 8:31 a.m., we arrived at the Elkhart station. There is a sweeping curve approaching this station, and from my room I could see both the front of our train and the many express cars that had been added at the back. Then I went to the dining car for breakfast. The car was not at all full, and I was assigned a table to myself (the couple who sat opposite me last night were sitting at the table behind me). I ordered the "American" breakfast, which included orange juice, coffee, a very large fresh fruit platter, a bowl of Raisin Bran, and a bagel with cream cheese. It was quite a large breakfast, much more than I usually eat in the morning. I took my time eating the meal, while reading a copy of this month's Railpace magazine, and did not finish my breakfast until 9:30 a.m. An announcement had been made about 9:10 a.m. that the dining car was now closed, and I was the last passenger left in the dining car.
I returned to my room, updated these memoirs and then gathered my belongings together. (I had left my two suitcases downstairs in the luggage rack, so I brought some of my things down there.) At 8:58 a.m. (Central Time), we arrived at Hammond- Whiting, the suburban stop for Chicago. When we departed three minutes later, we were 49 minutes late.
The schedule allows one hour and 23 minutes to cover the 16 miles from Hammond-Whiting to Chicago. Some of this represents make-up time, but a significant amount of this time is normally needed to allow for a back-up move to permit the dropping off of express cars and the repositioning of the train so that it faces forward leaving the station. This is necessary because the equipment from our train is used for this afternoon's Southwest Chief. But today, much to my surprise, we did not make any back- up move. At 9:32 a.m., we stopped briefly outside the station to uncouple all the express cars in the rear, and then we pulled straight ahead into Track 22, where we arrived at 9:39 a.m. -- only four minutes late!! I was truly astonished that we had arrived at our final destination so quickly. Indeed, it took me a few minutes to gather together the remainder of my belongings and detrain. I gave a $5 tip to my attendant Cliff, who was very nice and did perform some services for me, and walked down the platform to the station. (One disadvantage of the straight pull- in move was that my sleeper was at the rear of the train, and I had to walk down the entire platform to reach the station.) I went straight to the Metropolitan Lounge, where I stored my luggage, plugged in my computer, and finished these memoirs.
On the way, I passed by the arrivals monitor, and noticed that the Three Rivers was "represented by buses/see agent" and would be arriving on Canal Street at 12:30 p.m., over four hours late. The Lake Shore Limited. scheduled to arrive at 11:15 a.m., would not be arriving until 3:30 p.m., with passengers coming from Toledo or Cleveland being bussed instead. Was I lucky in choosing the Capitol Limited for this trip! Had I chosen either of the two other New York-Chicago trains, I would either have had to suffer a bus trip for a significant part of the journey on the Three Rivers or,in the case of the Lake Shore, would have arrived significantly late. I don't understand why these trains encountered so many problems, since we had a very smooth and uneventful ride. (I subsequently found out that the Three Rivers had problems with the water and toilets freezing, so it was annulled at Pittsburgh, where it had arrived at 4:05 a.m., and that the Lake Shore left New York late due to various cold- weather-related problems.) I am certainly very glad that I chose not to take either one of these trains.
Since my cousins were not home, I remained in the Metropolitan Lounge for over four hours. Here, I was able to take advantage of a phone jack that permitted you to plug your computer in and make local calls for free. I read all my mail, and sent a few messages to the All-Aboard List. I also walked around the station a little, and noticed that all the benches had been removed from the old waiting room, with a carousel installed at one end of the room. Then I took the 2:35 p.m. Metra Fox Lake train to Edgebrook, where my cousin Debbie picked me up.
My trip on the Capitol Limited from Washington to Chicago was peaceful, quiet and delightful. Its on-time performance was remarkable, with the one significant delay we encountered en route being attributable solely to Amtrak, rather than the freight railroads. And our ultimate arrival in Chicago was only four minutes late. I could definitely see an improvement in the attitude of the on-board crew, something that others on the All- Aboard List have noted, too. I'm looking forward to the next part of my trip -- the ride from Chicago to Sacramento on the California Zephyr.