Dan Chazin's Trip on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited
It's 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, 2002, and I've just arrived at Penn Station in New York, where I - together with seven other Boy Scouts and leaders - will be boarding Train #49, the Lake Shore Limited, on our way to Chicago and then to Raton, N.M. I got a ride to Penn Station with the parents of one of the Scouts in my troop. We traveled from Teaneck to New York via the George Washington Bridge, and the trip took about 35 minutes door to door.
After bringing all of our backpacks and a number of cardboard boxes down to the station level, I went to the ticket machines to pick up our tickets for the trip. There were three separate reservations for our group, and I received about 30 individual tickets. Next, I went to the baggage counter to check the backpacks and boxes that we did not need enroute. I was informed by the agent that we could not check baggage to Raton. When I questioned this, he showed me the baggage checking book, dated March 1, 2002, which did not list Raton as a station to which baggage could be checked. I knew from a message posted by Gene Poon on the All-Aboard List that this decision had been reversed and that one could now, once again, check baggage to Raton. And I had saved the message to my AOL computer filing cabinet! So I turned on my computer and brought up the message, which I showed the agent. He then talked to a supervisor, who looked at the Amtrak computer and confirmed that I was right! The agent promptly apologized to me and accepted our backpacks. However, he refused to accept the cardboard boxes on the ground that they contained food. I didn't argue with him on this point; rather, I told him that we would carry the boxes onto the train with us.
We got through checking our luggage at about 3:30 p.m. In the meantime, Etan, another of our Scouts, had joined us. He had brought only his backpack along and decided not to check it. I now had all of our carry-on baggage brought over to the waiting area, and I went across the street to the General Post Office to mail a letter and then to an ATM machine to deposit two checks that I had just been given.
Soon after I returned, Paul arrived with his two sons and Michael. I went over with him to the baggage check area, where he checked some of their baggage. Next, Noah, who had arrived by train from Washington this morning, introduced himself to me. We now had our entire group of eight people together, and it was about 4:05 p.m.
By this time, the train should have arrived in the station. So I walked down to the track level, but I did not see any train that fit the description of the Lake Shore Limited on any of Tracks 5 through 8 - the only tracks that connect with the tunnel that leads into the ex-New York Central West Side Line, now used by Amtrak to access Metro-North's Hudson Line. So I went back upstairs. Finally, about 4:20 p.m., an announcement was made that our train would be delayed because of mechanical problems it had encountered in the Sunnyside Yard. I was not at all surprised; the Late Shore Limited was living up to its name.
Since there would be some time before our train was ready for boarding, I took out my computer, sat down in the waiting area, and began writing these memoirs. I then wrote a number of checks and again walked across the street to the General Post Office to mail them. Periodically, announcements were made that Train #49 was still in Sunnyside Yard due to mechanical problems, and that a further announcement would be made when the train is ready to depart.
Finally, at about 5:45 p.m., I went over to the Customer Service Office, where I was informed that the dining car on our train had developed mechanical problems and was being replaced with another diner. Taking a car out of the middle of the train and replacing it with another car is a time-consuming operation, especially when it is not planned. However, I was assured that the switching of the replacement car was in process, and that the train should be departing Sunnyside Yard soon.
At 6:06 p.m., it was announced that the "delayed" eastbound Lake Shore Limited, which had been scheduled to arrive at 3:20 p.m., would be the next train to arrive on Track 6. Then, precisely half an hour later, it was announced that our train was leaving the yard and would be arriving in the station at about 6:50 p.m.
In the meantime, I decided to plug in my computer to a data port on a pay phone to download my AOL messages. When I was finished, about 6:55 p.m., I walked down to the platform between Tracks 7 and 8, where I noticed quite a few people waiting. I was told that they were, indeed, waiting for Train #49, which was set to arrive on Track 8. So I went upstairs and had everyone gather all of our belongings. We then went over to the elevator, which leads directly down to our platform, loaded everything on the elevator, and took it down to our track. I noticed that my pack was on one of the baggage wagons that had been spotted near the rear of the platform, ready to be loaded into the baggage car.
We waited for awhile, yet no train appeared. So I walked upstairs, where I heard on the scanner that our train had arrived on Track 12 and had to be moved over to Track 8. I looked down on Track 12, and didn't see any train there. But when I returned to Track 8, I saw our trainset backing in to the platform from the west. Apparently, for some reason, the train had indeed been switched onto Track 12, and it had to go through that track and then back up onto Track 8. The arrival of our long-delayed train on Track 8 was greeted with applause by the waiting passengers!
Today's New York section of the Lake Shore Limited is pulled by Genesis dual-mode engine #702 and includes four Amfleet II coaches, an Horizon dinette, a diner, three Viewliner sleepers, a crew dorm and a baggage car. We, as through passengers to Chicago, were assigned to the last coach. We gathered all of our belongings and carried them down to our coach, stowing most of the large boxes in the rear of the coach. Soon afterwards, hordes of passengers appeared on the platform. Many of them boarded our car, and nearly every seat was quickly filled. A young boy sat next to me, with his father in one of the seats to the rear.
Although just about everyone had boarded the train by 7:35 p.m., we did not pull out of the station until 7:51 p.m., three hours and 16 minutes late. (I was told that the delay was because freon had to be added to one of the cars on the train.) Tonight's Late Shore Limited was truly living up to its nickname!
Soon, the conductor came by to collect tickets. He informed us that it was not only the diner that had to be switched out of our train; rather, three cars were defective and had to be replaced! Now, that's what we call "Right and Ready," isn't it?? Moreover, the conductor also told us that the air conditioning in the lounge car was not working and, as a result, the car was unbearably hot. He assured us that we would be getting a new lounge car in Albany.
I now walked through the four coaches. All four cars were quite full. Our car was the most crowded, with only three unoccupied seats (two of which were at the very front of the car, which are not adjacent to a window). The other cars were not quite as full, but I only observed two unoccupied pairs of seats in one car. I counted a total of about 190 passengers in the four cars, with a capacity of about 240.
About 8:25 p.m., it was announced that the dining car was now open for service. To get there, you had to go through the lounge car, but that car was unbearably hot and was closed for service (although the conductors did sit there). Soon, a number of people came back through our car. Apparently, the dining car was already filled with sleeping car passengers, leaving no room for most coach passengers who wanted to eat dinner. And since the lounge car was closed, no alternative food service was available.
We stopped at Croton-Harmon at 8:33 p.m. On the track opposite us was the southbound Adirondack, with a private car of the Acadian Railway on the rear. That train was supposed to arrive at Croton-Harmon at 6:53 p.m., so it was one hour and 40 minutes late. I stepped off our train briefly during our four-minute stop.
As we proceeded north from Croton-Harmon, I pointed out some of the sights to the Scouts, but after we passed the Bear Mountain Bridge, it got completely dark. Then, the father whose son was sitting next to me found contiguous seats in another car. He moved his family to that car, leaving the seat next to me unoccupied. So I now had two seats to myself.
We had not planned to eat in the diner tonight. Instead, we had brought quite a bit of our own food. I now climbed up to the luggage rack, where I took out some chumus and pitas, which we had for dinner. I wanted to get something to drink, and I noticed that although the lounge car was not open for service, some people were returning from there with cans of soda and cups of ice. I was informed that the attendant in the dining car was selling cans of soda, so I walked down to the diner and purchased a can of Pepsi for $1.50. The diner was nearly full, and the steward was taking reservations for later sittings. (As will be seen, though, those later sittings never took place.) As I walked through the lounge car, I noticed that the end of the car adjacent to the diner was occupied by people smoking. Aluminum foil-covered ashtrays were provided for these "guests," although the sign on the top of the car still said "no smoking."
At 9:17 p.m., soon after I returned to my seat, the head-end power went off, and our car lost power. I turned on the scanner, and heard the engineer report that the computer had shut off and had to be rebooted. We were just south of the Rhinecliff station, and he hoped that we could coast into that station. We did finally make it, and we pulled into the station at 9:33 p.m.
Subsequently, I heard the engineer advise the dispatcher that we had an electrical control problem, that we couldn't load the diesel, and that the FSR circuit wouldn't start. (The engine itself, though, kept on running; it just couldn't power the train due to the computer failure.) In the meantime, an announcement had been made on the loudspeaker that, due to safety concerns (there was very limited lighting in the cars), passengers should remain in their seats.
I listened on the scanner as the engineer attempted to reboot the engine, apparently without success. After about ten minutes, I heard on the scanner that they would be sending down an extra engine on Train #288, and that the engine would cut off the train at Rhinecliff and pull us back into Albany.
Soon afterwards, an announcement was made that the doors in the front of the train would be opened to permit passengers to detrain (only the coaches were on the platform; the diner, lounge and sleepers were south of the platform). Most of the passengers detrained and stepped out on the platform. The area at the waterfront just west of the station was jammed with people who came to watch a fireworks show sponsored by the City of Kingston. It was cool outside, and having the fireworks as entertainment certainly was preferable to sitting in the hot, dark train, with nothing to do.
I first walked up to the station and made some phone calls, including one to David, who would be boarding the Three Rivers in Pittsburgh tonight on his way to Chicago. Then I walked down to watch the fireworks, and purchased two cans of soda from a concession stand set up at the waterfront. In the meantime, at 10:22 p.m., southbound Train #296 came through the station without stopping. It seemed to me that this train was going much too fast, considering that the engineer had been warned that the platform was full of people watching the fireworks, but the conductor of our train later informed me that he thought Train #296 was going only 30 miles an hour, and that he had assured the conductor of that train that the platform was clear.
In the meantime, I noticed a young man on the platform wearing a "Nabisco-Fair Lawn" T-shirt. It turned out that he lived in Monroe, New York and hiked extensively in Harriman State Park and Sterling Forest. He was on his way to Buffalo, where he was working in GIS cartography. In response to a question from me, he expressed interest in possibly helping out the Trail Conference produce digital maps, so I got his e-mail address and promised to contact him.
In the meantime, Train #271, a northbound train from New York to Albany, scheduled to arrive in Rhinecliff at 9:55 p.m., was stuck behind us. This train ended up backing up all the way to Poughkeepsie -- 15 miles to the south, and the first crossover south of the Rhinecliff station -- where it switched direction and proceeded north on the southbound track, finally arriving in Rhinecliff at 11:20 p.m., one hour and 25 minutes late. One possibility would have been for Train #271 to pull us north to Albany, but this was not possible, as that train was made up of Turboliner equipment.
Our "rescue train," Train #288, was waiting north of the crossover for Train #271 to pass. Finally, at 11:27 p.m., Train #288 pulled south into the station. Train #288, which originated in Niagara Falls, was made up of Metroliner equipment, which has now become standard on a number of Empire Service trains. One of the conductors on the train recognized me from my service on the NPS Trails and Rails program, and we talked for a few minutes.
At the rear of Train #288 was engine #716, which was then detached from that train. It proceeded ahead to the crossover, then backed up and coupled onto our train. In the meantime, Train #288 departed at 11:36 p.m., one hour and 35 minutes late. I heard over the scanner that nine passengers from our train had enough, and would be boarding Train #288 to go back to Croton-Harmon.
The lights and air conditioning on our train went back on at 11:51 p.m., and we finally pulled out of the Poughkeepsie station at precisely 12:00 midnight. We were now just about six hours late. Our conductors' eligibility to work had expired at 11:50 p.m., so the yard crew from Albany was brought down to recrew our train. As the yard crew, they were not wearing uniforms - reminiscent of the situation I encountered onboard the Crescent a few weeks ago, when the Atlanta yard crew was called to take our train to Gainesville.
The situation we experienced was rather annoying, but it could have been much worse. At least the train made it to the Rhinecliff station, where passengers could wait on a cool platform, watch fireworks, and obtain beverages and even food from nearby establishments. Had we not be able to reach this station, the train would have stopped in a location where passengers would probably not have been allowed to detrain, and having to wait on a sweltering hot train for two and one-half hours would have been a very unpleasant experience.
Of course, the question arose as to whether we would make our connection with the Southwest Chief in Chicago. We are scheduled to have four and one-half hours between trains, and we're already running significantly later than that. All I could say to those who raised the question is that we will have to see what happens.
Now that we were on the move once again, four of the Scouts proceeded to the lounge car, where they played cards at a table. I walked back there, and found that the entire car had essentially been converted to a smoking car. A number of people were smoking in the rear of the car, and one of the "outlawed" conductors was smoking in the front of the car, where they remained with their radios (although the yard crew, wearing old clothes and sitting right behind them, were nominally in charge of the train). The car reeked of smoke (although, interestingly, the car did not feel as hot as it had felt earlier in the evening). I saw no reason to stay in this car, so I returned to my seat, where I updated these memoirs. I heard two defect detectors announce that we were going at least 80 miles an hour.
As we approached Albany, the Scouts returned to our car, and we pulled into the Albany station at 12:47 a.m. I detrained and walked into the station, on the way observing a switch engine pulling five RoadRailers that would be added to the rear of the train. I soon returned to the train, where I observed the Boston section being backed on to the New York section. I then recorded the equipment of the Boston section, which consisted of two Genesis engines, an MHC car, a baggage car, two Amfleet II coaches and a combination Club/Custom Class car with a food service counter in the middle. This car, designed to be used in the Northeast Corridor, was assigned as the lounge car for the Boston section of the train. Presumably, the plan was to remove it from the train at Albany, but due to the problems with the lounge car that accompanied us from New York, the car was left on the train. In fact, all of the stock of food and beverages that had been in the lounge car that came from New York was transferred to the Boston lounge car, which became the designated lounge car for the remainder of the trip. However, contrary to what the conductor on the way to Albany had indicated to me, the defective Horizon lounge car was not removed from the train - something that would have cost us even more time!
Once passengers were permitted to board the combined train, I walked into the rear Boston coach, where I met Seth and the other four boys who had boarded the train in Framingham. Despite some slow running through Framingham, due to a celebration of a World Cup victory, they had arrived in Albany on time at 6:55 p.m., and then had to sit for six hours waiting for us. They were, of course, permitted to get off the train, but they didn't have anywhere to go. As might be expected, they were rather upset at the long delay.
After visiting with the Boston Scouts for a little while, I returned to my car. Soon, the train was pulled forward to permit the sleeping car passengers to board (the platform was not long enough to accommodate the entire train at once). I was told by the coach attendant of the Boston section that the Boston sleeper had been bad-ordered, and as a result, a third sleeper - designed to accommodate the people from Boston - was added to the train in New York.
Finally, the conductor gave the highball signal, and we departed Albany-Rensselaer at 1:45 a.m., precisely six hours late. (Interestingly, on the scanner I heard someone comment: "Can we make it 44, so we can say that we're only five hours and 59 minutes late, rather than six hours?")
I still had two seats to myself, so I tried to stretch out, using the footrest of the aisle seat to form an L-shaped surface. I had brought my new, light sleeping bag along with me on the train, and also took along a real pillow from home, and these items provided some additional comfort. I did sleep intermittently, and probably got several hours' sleep, but I woke up at all of the stops. Due to the extreme length of our train (including both baggage cars, at each end of the train, there were 15 cars that had to stop on the platform at each station), we had to make two stops at each station, and this took considerable time. We also lost some time just east of the Rochester station waiting for an eastbound freight to pass us (the Rochester station, like most of the stations on this route, has only one track adjacent to the station platform, so we could not pull into the station until the eastbound train had passed us). When we departed Rochester at 6:07 a.m., it was already light out, and we were six hours and 23 minutes late.
At 7:03 a.m., we pulled into the Buffalo-Depew station, a small, unattractive facility located in a remote and unsightly area on the outskirts of town. I now decided to get up, and - for the first time since we departed from Albany - I stepped off the train, walked down the platform, and reboarded at the Boston coaches. We made three stops at Buffalo - the first for the coach passengers, the second to restock the diner, and the third for sleeping car passengers. The three stops combined took a total of 26 minutes, and when we finally departed at 7:29 a.m., we were six hours and 35 minutes late.
I watched as we passed the huge, abandoned Buffalo Central Terminal to our right, and I pointed this relic out to some people in our car. (One man later commented that this was the largest abandoned railroad station that he had ever seen, and wondered why they ever built such a large station at this location.) Next, I walked through the train and noticed that virtually every pair of seats in all six coaches was occupied by at least one person. Even the seats in the front lounge car (the one with Club/Custom Class seating) were being used as revenue space (had this not been done, the coaches would have been even more crowded).
When I returned to my seat, Michael, who had been sitting with Etan at the seat pair opposite mine, asked if I could switch seats with him so that he could stretch over both seats. Since I was now awake and would be spending some time in other cars, I decided to acquiesce in his request, and I moved my belongings to his former seat. I then went to the Horizon lounge car (which was open to passengers, although no food service was provided), sat down at a table, and updated these memoirs.
Soon, several Scouts from our group passed by on their way to the dining car for breakfast, and I decided to join them. Four Scouts sat at one table, while I sat at another table with two Scouts. We were soon joined by a young boy who was traveling with his mother from Boston to Chicago (his mother was sitting at the table across the aisle). The boy indicated that he wished that they had flown instead of taking the train, and the mother replied that, in view of the long delays that they have experienced, they will probably fly next time.
For some reason, it took the attendant over half an hour to take our orders (ironically, we were served after the young boy, who sat down some time after us!). I had the Continental breakfast of fruit and cold cereal (along with orange juice and coffee), while the other Scouts got eggs or pancakes. Interestingly, we were never given checks; rather, at the conclusion of the meal, the steward came by, asked what we had for breakfast, added the items up on a calculator, and then verbally informed us what we owed for the meal.
I really didn't mind the delay in service for breakfast, as it was a real treat to once again eat a meal in the dining car. Moreover, we were being "treated" to "rare scenery," in that we were covering in daylight a portion of the route that is normally traversed in the darkness. The scenery along the route is nothing special, with many vineyards lining the tracks. One point of interest that we passed along the way was North East, Pa., where the former station has been converted to a museum, with an assortment of historic passenger equipment on adjacent tracks.
About 9:00 a.m, I returned to my seat and watched as we made a rather brief stop at Erie, Pa. at 9:01 a.m. Although the platform on which our train stops has recently been rebuilt, three abandoned and deteriorated platforms remain. Soon, we crossed the state line into Ohio, and we passed the restored station in Conneaut, also converted into a museum, with a former Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive on exhibit. I then went back to the Horizon lounge car, where I updated these memoirs and followed the progress of our train on the SPV Great Lakes East rail atlas.
I returned to my seat as we were arriving in Cleveland at 10:28 a.m. Cleveland features a modern but relatively attractive station, located on the lakefront adjacent to the Cleveland Browns Stadium. To reach the station building, you have to cross a double-track light-rail line at grade, with the crossing protected by lights and bells. (The station is not unique in this respect, as the Amtrak San Diego station has a similar arrangement.) I stepped off the train and walked down the platform, but I didn't go into the station, as I wasn't sure how long we would be spending here. Although Cleveland has a long platform, and even the sleeping cars fit on the platform, the rear baggage car did not, so we had to make a second stop to unload baggage from that car. When we departed Cleveland at 10:42 a.m., we were "only" six hours and six minutes late, having made up about half an hour of our lost time.
We made two stops at Elyria, as there were a number of coach passengers boarding the train, in addition to one passenger who was traveling in a sleeper. Between Elyria and Sandusky, we proceeded rather slowly, due to restrictive signals, and passed by a number of fields in which evergreen plants were being grown for sale. As a result of the delays we encountered en route, we did not arrive at Sandusky until 12:10 p.m. We overshot the station and had to back up a short distance. When we left Sandusky three minutes later, we were precisely six and one-half hours late.
I walked down to the Boston coaches, where Jon informed me that David from Pittsburgh had called on his cell phone. He, along with the two other Scouts from Pittsburgh, had arrived in Chicago this morning on the Three Rivers, and they wanted to know what to do. Soon, David called again. I told him that, even if we miss our connection, his group should board the Southwest Chief in Chicago and proceed to Raton. I also asked him to call us back at 2:00 p.m. Chicago time, by when we might know some more details.
In the meantime, about 12:45 p.m., the conductor made an announcement over the public address system regarding the lateness of our train. He estimated that we would arrive in Chicago at 5:30 p.m., and stated that he did not know at this time whether any trains would be held for connections. He also informed passengers that we would soon be arriving in Toledo, and he pointed out that passengers could detrain and make phone calls upon our arrival in Toledo.
We pulled into the Central Union Terminal in Toledo at 1:07 p.m. I detrained and walked into the station, where I made a phone call. The Toledo station - a rather ugly, utilitarian building, constructed around 1950 to replace a beautiful classic structure which dated back to the 1880s - is far too large for today's needs, and the original waiting room has been closed, with passengers now accommodated in a small room on track level that has been attractively remodeled. (Ironically, the original 1880s building would undoubtedly have been preserved as a landmark were it still in existence today!) I soon reboarded the train, but we remained in the station a while longer because the various cars had to be watered and serviced, which took some time. As a result, our station stop lasted for nearly half an hour, and when we departed at 1:36 p.m., we were six hours and 41 minutes late.
Soon after we departed Toledo, an announcement was made that all passengers would be provided with a free lunch, consisting of a Subway sandwich and a pizza. The attendant came through the cars and gave each passenger a ticket check which could be turned in for a meal. Although the attendant implied that meals would be served to us at our seats, in reality passengers were required to walk back to the Horizon lounge car to pick up their food, and the meal consisted of either a slice of pizza or a Subway sandwich, but not both, along with a can of soda.
We arrived at Bryan, Ohio at 2:27 p.m. Although Bryan features an historic frame passenger station and a brick freight station, both on the eastbound tracks, Amtrak passengers are relegated to a small white-painted concrete block Amshack, on the westbound side of the tracks. Our stop here lasted for ten minutes, largely because we had to make a second stop to permit food and beverages to be unloaded from the front lounge car and reloaded onto the rear Horizon lounge car, where the food was being distributed.
Our next stop, Waterloo, has a platform only on the north side of the tracks, but we arrived on what would normally be considered the eastbound track, so passengers getting on or off had to cross the westbound track to reach the platform. Only the west end of the platform was equipped with a walkway across the westbound track, so we had to make two stops to permit passengers to detrain, first from the Boston coaches, then from the New York coaches. Our stop lasted for six minutes, and when we departed at 2:11 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (equivalent to Central Daylight Time), we were just about seven hours late.
The boys were now playing a card game in the seats surrounding mine. Since a number of passengers had detrained in Waterloo, I used the opportunity to move to the second New York coach, where there were now a number of unoccupied pairs of seats. I spent most of the remainder of the trip sitting in this coach, which was now much less crowded than the rear coach to which our group had been assigned.
At 2:45 p.m., we came to a halt at Ligonier, Indiana. The conductor announced that we were waiting for Norfolk Southern freight traffic, but we started moving again five minutes later, without any freight train having passed us in the interim. The conductor also announced that the Empire Builder had already departed Chicago, and that it was not anticipated that any other train would hold for connecting passengers from our train, which was now anticipated to arrive in Chicago at 6:00 p.m.
This would, of course, leave us in a very awkward position. We had three Scouts who would be boarding the Southwest Chief, as scheduled, with five other Scouts headed for Denver and expecting us to meet them in Raton tomorrow morning. But the remaining 13 people from our group were on our train, and it appears that we would be missing our connection. In the past, I've heard that Amtrak sometimes flies passengers to Kansas City to catch the Southwest Chief there, but whether this option will be offered to us, I do not know.
We now encountered some more slow running, and did not arrive at our next stop, Elkhart, until 3:28 p.m. It had taken us one hour and 17 minutes to cover a distance of 54 miles. Elkhart has a very long platform, and the conductor instructed the engineer to pull forward as far as he could so that passengers from the rear sleeper could detrain. Apparently, the attendants closed their doors as soon as passengers had detrained, and the conductor had to make an announcement asking the attendants to reopen their doors so that passengers could board the train. When we departed Elkhart at 3:33 p.m., we were precisely seven and one-half hours late.
As we proceeded west, we continued to lose more and more time. We were seven hours and 41 minutes late when we departed South Bend at 4:05 p.m., after a six-minute stop. The worst part, though, was the stretch east of Hammond-Whiting, where we crawled about ten miles an hour through the unattractive industrial wasteland that characterizes this area. We kept on getting restrictive signals and speed restrictions. Finally, we arrived at the Hammond-Whiting station at 5:48 p.m. Our stop lasted only a minute, and when we departed, we were eight hours and 22 minutes late!
As soon as we left the station, we passed eastbound Train #370, destined for Grand Rapids. But then we came to a stop. The conductor announced that we would be further delayed in our arrival in Chicago due to a considerable amount of Norfolk Southern freight traffic and a number of eastbound Amtrak trains coming from Chicago. We did not start moving again until 6:07 p.m., but then we did pick up speed. In the meantime, on the scanner, I heard the conductor asking the engineer whether we had enough fuel to get to Chicago. The reply was that we probably do, but that if the train is subject to further delays, the crew might outlaw before reaching Union Station!
I started talking to several people sitting around me, and we compared our experiences on late Amtrak trains. The people sitting behind me mentioned that they take the Lake Shore between Syracuse and Chicago several times a year, and this was the third worst performance by this train (the worst performance took place in the middle of the winter, when the temperature was 4 degrees, and the train was over 12 hours late!). This train ride was about to be for me Amtrak's second worst performance in terms of timekeeping. One woman commented that the crew's attitude left much to be desired. I replied that no member of this crew had distinguished himself in terms of responsiveness to the needs of passengers, but that I have seen worse attitudes on the part of Amtrak crews.
About 6:25 p.m., just south of the 21st Street bridge, we again came to a stop for ten minutes. Since were getting very close to Chicago, I decided to move all of my belongings back to the last coach, where the rest of our group was sitting. When we resumed moving, we proceeded forward onto the BNSF wye. It was obvious that we would be backing into the station, although the conductor made no announcement to that effect.
The HEP was briefly shut off (presumably to permit the RoadRailers at the rear of the train to be disconnected). Then we pulled forward along the BNSF line a very considerable distance (up to Blue Island Avenue), until we finally started our back-up move at 6:51 p.m.
In the meantime, I started talking to the woman sitting in front of me. She wanted to go to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Although it had been announced that passengers for Kalamazoo could take Train #354, which leaves Chicago at 6:10 p.m., we would obviously be arriving in Chicago after that. Although that train was not scheduled to stop at Hammond-Whiting, it could have made a special stop there to pick up passengers from our train. It seems that Amtrak made no effort to take this small step that would have helped the Kalamazoo passengers get to their destination more expeditiously.
On our way into the station, we passed several Heritage cars that were formerly used on the Adirondack. Apparently, they were transported to Chicago either to be rehabilitated, or to be scrapped.
After making a safety stop, we came to our final stop on Track 26 at Chicago Union Station at 7:04 p.m. We were eight hours and 19 minutes late! We waited for everyone else to detrain, gathered together all our belongings and boxes, and walked into the station. We headed for the Passenger Services Office, where there were already a very large crowd of people gathered. It seems that at least 150 people were affected by the late arrival of our train, and all of them were crowded into two small rooms. Sleeping car passengers were directed to the small Passenger Services office, while coach passengers were given numbers and directed to a larger room next door, full of chairs and tables, with a few Amtrak agents sitting in the front handling the multitude of people waiting to change their reservations.
In my view, Amtrak's handling of this situation left much to be desired. They knew several hours in advance that well over 100 passengers would be missing their connections in Chicago, and they should have done a much better job in arranging for the accommodation of the affected passengers. The last time something like this happened to me (in June 1991, when my Texas Eagle arrived in Chicago over eight hours late), Amtrak arranged for customer service representatives to board the train several hours out of Chicago and to work with the passengers on the train to rearrange their connections. Something like that could have been done with our train, since it was known well in advance that we would all be missing our connections. Instead, we all had to wait for over an hour in a hot room, while a small and inadequate staff of Amtrak employees handled the various needs of the passengers.
Our group was finally called at about 8:45 p.m. We explained the importance of our arriving in Raton tomorrow to start our trek as scheduled, especially in view of the fact that eight other members of our party would be arriving there tomorrow as planned. Cathy Walton, the agent whom we were dealing with, understood our situation, and she offered us the option of taking a Greyhound bus that would leave Chicago at about 10:00 p.m. this evening and, after a layover of unspecified duration in Denver, arrive in Raton at 3:25 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Paul and I discussed this alternative and concluded that it would not be advisable. Spending a whole day on a crowded Greyhound bus would not be very pleasant or restful and, in any event, it was doubtful whether our arrival early Wednesday morning would permit us to leave on the trek as scheduled.
Before making our final decision, I called Philmont and explained our situation to them. They assured us that they would be able to reschedule our trek and take care of the eight boys who would be arriving in our absence. Although a few of the boys indicated that they preferred the bus alternative, we concluded that we would instead accept Amtrak's offer of overnight accommodations at a downtown Chicago hotel and transportation to Raton on tomorrow's Southwest Chief.
Cathy wrote out vouchers for five rooms at the Quality Inn, and also provided me with a cash voucher for $13 a person (designed to cover the cost of breakfast and lunch) and $40 for taxi fares to and from the hotel. However, we had seven boxes of food which we really did not want to transport back and forth to the hotel. Cathy agreed to find a redcap who could arrange to store these items for us at the station.
We waited and waited, but no redcap showed up. Periodically, Cathy radioed for a redcap to come to the Passenger Services Office, but her calls went unheeded. We spent nearly an hour hanging around Union Station waiting for the redcap. At one point, we were informed that there is only one redcap on duty at Union Station at this time, and she was busy assisting other passengers.
Finally, at about 10:15 p.m., we decided to take matters into our own hands. The boys wanted to walk to the Quality Inn hotel, which ended up being only about five blocks away, and they didn't mind carrying our belongings along.
It took a while to check into the hotel, but things did work out okay in the end. We had three people in each of three rooms, and two people in the other two rooms. I shared a room with Michael. About 11:45 p.m., I finally went to bed.
So ended our trip to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited. Things ended up turning out very differently than I had anticipated and expected. The train ride left much to be desired, and in general, I wasn't pleased with the way Amtrak handled the passengers inconvenienced by the very late arrival of the train. Many Scouts were quite upset by the extremely long train ride and by the fact that we would now be arriving in Philmont a day late. I, too, was quite disappointed with what transpired. And the fact that the delays we experienced were largely Amtrak's fault made matters even worse. This was a very memorable train trip, but in a less than positive sense.
Many more rail travelogues for you to read:
Dan Chazin /
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