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Dan Chazin's Trip on the Amtrak Southwest Chief
Flagstaff-Chicago
TrainWeb.com/travelogues/dchazin/2002f30a/2002g17a.html

It's 5:35 a.m. on Wednesday, July 17, 2002, and I've arrived - for the third time this morning - at the Amtrak station in Flagstaff, Arizona, where we will be boarding the Southwest Chief on our way to Chicago and then New York (via the Lake Shore Limited). This will be the culmination of our three-week trip to Philmont and the Grand Canyon.

Our trip to the Grand Canyon went very smoothly. On Monday morning, we rented two seven-passenger vans from National Car Rental and drove to the Grand Canyon, arriving there about 1:30 p.m. We set up a few tents at our campsite, went to the store to purchase some food, and then drove to the Backcountry Office, located in a relatively new building adjacent to the railroad tracks that was designed to be a railroad station, but has never been used for that purpose. There we were informed that one can no longer drive to the trailhead for the South Kaibab Trail. Instead, the only access is now by shuttle bus. So we took the blue shuttle bus to the green shuttle bus, which in turn brought us to the trailhead.

We left the South Rim about 4:00 p.m., descending into the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail, and crossed the Black Bridge across the Colorado River at 7:15 p.m. We then stopped at a site near the beach to eat dinner, and we began our climb out of the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail at 8:40 p.m. It was completely dark for the ascent, but we really lucked out as far the temperature was concerned. At the bottom of the Grand Canyon, it was 95 - not too bad for the bottom of the canyon in the middle of the summer - but soon after we started our ascent, it began to rain, and the temperature dropped to 75. This is a very comfortable temperature for hiking in the canyon, and the fact that our T-shirts had gotten wet from the rain made it even more comfortable. The boys were all in good shape after our Philmont backpacking trip, and the absence of the oppressive heat usually found in the summer made our 4,500-foot ascent much easier than I had anticipated. We arrived at the top at 2:10 a.m. It had taken us only five and one-half hours for the climb - half an hour less than the six hours I had figured it would require. We retrieved our vans and drove back to our campsite, where we arrived at about 3:00 a.m.

Yesterday morning, we left our campsite at about 11:00 a.m., spent about an hour around the Bright Angel Lodge area, and drove back to Flagstaff. This time, we were provided with two two-room suites at the Inn Suites. The boys enjoyed our "luxurious" accommodations, and many of them went out to see a movie. I used the time to repack my belongings and purchase some food for our forthcoming train trip. After everyone had returned, I took several backpacks and boxes over to the station and checked them for our return journey. The agent informed me that my missing tent had not yet shown up. When I returned to the motel, the boys were busy watching some movie on TV. We ate dinner and finally went to sleep about 11:00 p.m. Mike, with whom I shared a room, set an alarm for 4:00 a.m.

I woke up about 3:30 a.m. and called the agent at the Flagstaff station (he had provided me with the number when I was there earlier in the evening), who informed me that our Train #4 was running about half an hour late, and was therefore anticipated to arrive about 5:45 a.m., rather than 5:10 a.m., as scheduled. This was welcome news, as I doubted whether we could get ready in time to make our train if it really arrived at 5:10 a.m. On the Internet, I had checked the status of Train #4 at Flagstaff for the past four days, and found that it had arrived at least half an hour late every day. So I was quite confident that it would arrive late today, too, and was glad that I turned out to be right.

Although four of us had already checked our backpacks, the other seven members of our group traveling on the train did not. The three boys from Newton would be detraining at Framingham, a station which does not accept checked baggage, and another four boys, traveling to New York and Pittsburgh, elected not to check their backpacks. Since I could not fit 12 people and seven large backpacks into two seven-passenger vans, I had to make two trips to the station - the first for the backpacks, and the second for the people. And before making the first trip, I had to wait until everyone finished packing. We left the first time with the backpacks about 4:55 a.m. Seth accompanied me to the station, where he remained with the backpacks. I then returned to the motel for the second trip. This time, we took both vans, and arrived at the station at 5:20 a.m. - five minutes after our train had been scheduled to depart! We were indeed fortunate that the train was late. Kevin, the friendly agent, announced that our train had just arrived at Williams, the previous stop, and that its anticipated arrival time was now 6:00 a.m.

I left one van at the station and drove Josh (our second driver) to the nearby Greyhound bus station, where he would be catching a bus to Phoenix. After that, I had to stop to refuel the van and finally returned to the station at 5:35 a.m. Interestingly, all of the major rent-a-car companies allow their cars to be dropped off at the Flagstaff Amtrak station, which is quite atypical for Amtrak stations. Hertz even has several spaces reserved for its use at the adjacent parking lot. Being able to leave the vans at the station is, of course, a major convenience for us.

About 5:50 a.m., the agent asked all coach passengers to move to the western end of the platform, where the coaches would be spotted. Then, at 5:59 a.m. -- as predicted by the agent -- our train rounded the curve west of the station and came to a stop.

Today's eastbound Southwest Chief is pulled by four new Genesis engines - all in the new "three sheets to the wind" scheme, and includes a baggage car, a crew dorm, two sleepers, a diner, a Sightseer Lounge car, two baggage coaches, two full coaches, a sleeper, a deadhead diner, and the usual complement of express cars and RoadRailers. The consist does not include a coach-smoker; thus, no smoking is permitted aboard, but smokers are allowed to step off the train at various stations to enjoy a brief smoke. As far as I am concerned, this is a very positive thing, as it will facilitate my detraining at intermediate stations to take pictures.

We were instructed to board the third coach, which we did. We were not assigned specific seats, but there were many vacant pairs of seats on the upper level, and we had no difficulty finding seats. Our coach - like the other four on the train - is a Superliner I car that has not been retrofitted with electric outlets at each seat. However, I noticed an outlet on the left side of the car, so I chose for myself a pair of seats right behind the outlet (Mike sat in the seat adjacent to the outlet). For a change, I would have an outlet accessible from my seat, eliminating the need to move to other cars in order to plug in my computer.

As we boarded the train, we noticed that the luggage racks on the lower level of our car were already completely full with other passengers' luggage. This meant that none of our backpacks or boxes could be stored there, and some of these items were too large to fit in the overhead luggage racks. However, there was plenty of room in the luggage racks in the coach ahead of us and, with the permission of the attendant, we stored some of our belongings there.

Our stop at Flagstaff lasted for nine minutes, and when we departed at 6:08 a.m., we were 53 minutes late. After the conductor collected our tickets, I walked through the four coaches on the train. I found that the first car, which was quite full, was for passengers traveling all the way to Chicago, and all passengers in the rear car were traveling to destinations no further than Raton. (As I subsequently found out by talking to the dining car steward and the conductor, a group of 88 Boy Scouts was scheduled to board the train in Raton, and the rear car was being kept open for them.) The middle two cars were occupied by passengers going to various other destinations, and these cars were not full.

As might be expected, most of the boys were quiet tired and quickly fell asleep. We had brought cereal and milk onto the train, so some of the boys went down to the lower level of the lounge car and ate breakfast. I returned to my seat and noticed the remains of a number of tank cars -- presumably involved in a recent derailment -- on the north side of the tracks, near West Darling.

We made a brief stop at Winslow at 7:05 a.m., during which six people got onboard and two detrained. Winslow features a very attractive classic stucco station, but it appears to be closed to passengers. Adjacent to the station, on a side track, was the private car Louis Sockalexis, lettered for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

After we departed Winslow, I heard an announcement from Sam, the dining car steward, that the dining car was full, and that anyone wishing to eat breakfast in the dining car should come down and put their name on a waiting list. Although we had brought some food for breakfast along, I decided to eat breakfast in the diner, so I walked down to put my name on the list. But when I arrived at the dining car, I found it to be half empty, and I was immediately seated by the steward. Soon I was joined by a boy and a young man.

I didn't talk to the boy at all, but I had a very interesting conversation with the young man, who sat opposite me. He was from Louisiana, but currently serves in the Navy and is stationed at a naval air base in central California. He had been driving his 1968 Pontiac from Louisiana to California when it overheated near Albuquerque and had to be towed for repairs. Since he had to return to his naval base immediately, he took Greyhound out to California. Now that his car had been repaired, he was returning to Albuquerque to pick up the car and drive it back to California. He heard that he might be able to travel to Albuquerque via Amtrak, so he called Amtrak and found that he could get to Albuquerque for only $80, while it would have cost $103 to make the trip via Greyhound. He boarded a San Joaquin train in Hanford, took it to Bakersfield, then transferred to a Thruway bus which took him to Barstow, where he boarded this train. He was very pleased that he had decided to travel on Amtrak, which he found much more comfortable than the Greyhound bus he had taken out to California.

For breakfast, I had my usual Continental selection, with Rice Krispies, fruit and coffee. I told the attendant that I did not want the yogurt but would prefer a larger portion of fruit. So I was served a very large fruit plate along with the cereal, and the attendant came by several times to refill my coffee. It turned out to be a delightful meal, and I was very glad that I had chosen to eat this meal in the dining car.

During breakfast, it was announced that we had entered New Mexico and that all watches should be advanced one hour. In fact, though, we did not cross the Arizona-New Mexico line until after I had returned to my seat - about 15 minutes later.

At 9:44 a.m., Mountain Daylight Time, we arrived at Gallup, N.M. Unlike the situation on our westbound trip, when passengers were specifically forbidden to detrain here, an announcement was make that smokers could detrain, and that the middle two coaches would be opened. Although only a handful of people boarded the train here, the stop lasted for five minutes so that the smokers would be able to spend some time smoking. This gave me time to walk into the station building. The Gallup station, designated as an intermodal transportation center, is a large two-story building, most of which seems to be used for other purposes. There is a reasonably attractive waiting room for Amtrak passengers, but the only agent at the station is for Greyhound, not Amtrak, and Amtrak passengers have to buy their tickets onboard the train. Interestingly, after we departed Gallup at 9:49 a.m., I heard over the scanner the dispatcher asking the conductor the reason for the five-minute stop. The conductor replied that it was due to "passengers," to which the dispatcher replied: "Lots of passengers." Of course, I knew that this was not the real reason for the long stop at Gallup, but I guess the dispatcher just wanted to determine whether the delay was the fault of Amtrak or BNSF, and by blaming the delay on "passengers," he was putting the blame on Amtrak, where it did in fact belong.

Normally, an Indian guide boards the train at Gallup to present an interpretive program. But soon after we departed Gallup, I went to the lounge car and found that no guide was present. Apparently, no guide was available, and no program would be presented today. I very much enjoyed the video shown by the guide on our westbound trip, but today's trip would be a little different. And the absence of Patrick, the loquacious lounge car attendant, meant that no commentary at all would be presented along the way. I did have my Route Guide and the pages from the Rail Ventures book, which I referred to some of the time, but I spent most of the time relaxing, working on these memoirs, and sleeping a little.

Before I knew it, we were approaching Albuquerque. We had been nearly an hour late when we departed from Flagstaff, but - due to the make-up time built into the schedule - we would be arriving at Albuquerque early. As we approached the station, I noticed switch engine #517, which had been on our westbound train on Sunday, parked just south of the station.

We pulled into the Albuquerque station at 12:07 p.m., 22 minutes early. A few minutes prior to our arrival, the dining car steward had announced the first call for lunch. Interestingly, he also announced that the dining car would remain open during our station stop. Often, meal service is suspended during long station stops, as the HEP is cut off when cars are added to or removed from the train. But today, the consist is not being changed at Albuquerque, so the HEP will remain uninterrupted.

This is the first time during our trip that we have arrived at a long service stop early. When this occurs, one knows that the train cannot depart before its scheduled departure time, thus providing an extended period to detrain and walk around. Thus, I knew that we had 52 minutes before our train would depart.

First, I walked to the rear of the train, where I recorded the numbers of the 12 express cars and 7 RoadRailers that were attached. As I walked back towards the station, I noticed a pallet of mail ready to be loaded onto the first express car, whose door was open. Then I went into the station and called the Flagstaff office of National Rent-A-Car, where I ascertained that one of my Scouts had indeed left a plastic bag, with some items of food and clothing, in the back of one of the vans that we returned at the Albuquerque Amtrak station. Next, I walked over to the Alvarado Transportation Center to see what this facility really was. It turned out that the lower level was simply a bus transfer facility, with offices for the local transit agency on the upper level. It was apparent that no provisions had ever been made for use of the building by Amtrak. The matter was clarified when I returned to the Amtrak station, where an artist's rendering of the entire complex was posted. The intention was that the existing building for the transit agency would be complemented by another separate building to the south for the use of Amtrak. But, as the agent explained to me, the new Amtrak facility would be "Phase II" of the project and, to date, nothing has been done on Phase II. So Amtrak remains in the undistinguished, unattractive building that it currently uses as the Albuquerque station.

I then walked to the front of the train, where I took a picture, and reboarded the train at the front sleeper. Walking through the two front sleepers, I noticed that both cars seemed to be quite full.

Some of the boys had gone out to a local fast food place during our stop, and two of them returned to the train only a minute or two before our departure at 12:59 p.m. In fact, I thought I saw one of our Scouts run onto the train only seconds before our departure (although he claims to have arrived a few minutes earlier). In any event, everyone did get back on the train before our departure. The engines were being refueled until a few minutes prior to our scheduled departure time, so it seems that had we not arrived in Albuquerque early, we might not have left on time.

Soon after we departed Albuquerque, I took out some chumus and crackers and served it for lunch to those members of our group who did not eat lunch during our stop at Albuquerque. Soon, I heard over the scanner that westbound Train #3 was also on time. That would mean that we should be meeting that train somewhere east of Lamy. A short distance west of Lamy, we encountered a dark signal, and although we obtained permission from the dispatcher to proceed, we had to proceed to the following signal at a restricted speed. Just beyond, at milepost 843.4, my SPV Rail Atlas showed a defect detector, but the detector did not sound off as our train passed. The conductor noticed this, and at first he stated over the scanner that he would have to go out and inspect the entire train. An announcement was made to the effect that our arrival in Lamy would be delayed by about ten minutes because the train had to be inspected. However, it seems that the crew reconsidered their decision and concluded that it was not necessary to inspect the train under these circumstances, so after a brief stop, we moved on and arrived in Lamy at 2:15 p.m. Today's stop at Lamy was very brief, with only a handful of people boarding the train here, and when we departed two minutes later, we were ten minutes late.

Apache Canyon, where the train snakes through a narrow canyon, is just beyond Lamy. Since this scenic feature can best be appreciated from the Sightseer Lounge car, I went to that car to observe our passage through the canyon. Then, at 2:41 p.m., we passed the westbound Southwest Chief, Train #3. Observing the consist of this train as it passed, I noticed that it was quite similar to ours, even including a deadhead diner behind the rear sleeper! The major difference I observed was that the westbound train had a smoker coach and three 34000-series coaches, rather than the two baggage-coaches and two 34000-series coaches on our train. It also had 6 express cars and 9 RoadRailers. This time, the westbound train took the siding, so we were not delayed by the meet.

The ride from Lamy to Raton was uneventful, punctuated by a brief stop at Las Vegas, N.M., during which three people detrained and no one got on.

We arrived at Raton at 5:40 p.m., exactly on time. Since I knew that our stop here would last for about ten minutes, I detrained to observe the large mass of Boy Scouts who would be boarding our train. There were a number of separate Scout groups, most of whom would be proceeding all the way to Chicago, but others of whom would be detraining in Galesburg or Naperville. The plan was to have the Scouts destined for Chicago put their backpacks in the baggage car, while those going to Galesburg and Naperville would store their backpacks in the baggage section on the lower level of the second coach. But some of the Chicago Scouts had not been made aware of this plan, and they had to walk all the way down to the baggage car, store their packs, then return to their assigned coach. There was also a TNM&O bus, offering a connection to Denver, that pulled directly adjacent to our train to facilitate the transfer of passengers. All in all, it was a rather interesting sight, and I took a few pictures. I also noticed a coal train proceed ahead of us up Raton Pass. In view of the light freight traffic on this line, I was a little surprised to see this train, and even more surprised to see it proceed ahead of us up the pass. But it seems to have proceeded along at a steady pace, and we do not appear to have been delayed by it. This coal train presumably came from the York Canyon coal mine, which was scheduled to close this summer, but now will apparently remain open.

Despite some confusion, the boarding of all 88 Boy Scouts took only 11 minutes. After we departed at 5:51 p.m., the dispatcher asked the conductor the reason for the long stop. His reply was: "Boy Scouts of America - BSA - 88 of them!"

The lounge car attendant came to our car and asked that we consolidate our seats so that other Scouts could be moved into our car. Apparently, ten Scouts had been seated on the lower level of the last coach, and the attendant was concerned that those seats might be needed for handicapped passengers boarding at subsequent stops. I still had the pair of seats to myself, though. As can be imagined, all four coaches were now quite full. Although the lower level seating in the rear car was never needed for handicapped passengers, it was subsequently used to accommodate other passengers who boarded at stops that we made in the middle of the night.

For our climb of Raton Pass, I first went to the lounge car, then walked down to the lower level of one of the coaches. There I met a young man from Pennsylvania - a teacher who had spent five summers working at Philmont. Besides talking about Philmont, he pointed out to me the remains of the Wooton Ranch as we descended from the summit.

We made a brief stop at the unattractive, cinder-block station at Trinidad at 6:48 p.m., then proceeded on our way towards La Junta. I went down to the lower level of the adjacent car and retrieved various food items, which we ate at our seats. Our meal this evening included chumus, sardines, cottage cheese, canned pineapple, crackers, and Sara Lee bagels with cream cheese (the bagels having been given to us by a woman sitting behind us who had them left over). It actually was a pretty good meal. During dinner, we remarked how bleak the surrounding scenery was, often with no sign of civilization visible for miles.

We concluded our dinner prior to our arrival at La Junta at 8:06 p.m., 34 minutes early. Again, there is significant make-up time built into the schedule here, so our scheduled ten-minute stop was lengthened into a 44-minute one. I went into the station and made several phone calls, then returned to the train well prior to our departure. Several of the boys decided to go to a nearby fast-food restaurant. About ten minutes before the train's scheduled departure at 8:50 p.m., they heard the train's whistle blowing, so they quickly concluded their meal and ran back to the train, boarding only a few minutes before our on-time departure at 8:50 p.m.

By the time we departed La Junta, it had gotten quite dark. While I updated my memoirs, Michael was listening to a local radio station, which asked listeners to call in answers to a question. Using his cell phone, Michael called in, gave the correct answer, and won a backpack as a prize. When asked where he was calling from, he replied that he was passing through Colorado on an Amtrak train!

We made a brief stop at Lamar, Colorado, from where we departed on time at 9:38 p.m. Soon afterwards, we crossed the border into Kansas, and entered the Central Time Zone. Since it was now after 11:00 p.m. and I was getting a little tired, I decided to go to sleep. So I took out my pillow and sleeping bag and stretched over the two seats. I was awake for our station stops at Garden City, from where we departed on time at 11:58 p.m., and Dodge City, where we made two stops and departed at 12:51 a.m., six minutes late. But I slept through our next stop at Hutchinson. I awoke for our four-minute stop at Newton, where we departed at 3:10 a.m., five minutes late. And I was also awake when we passed the westbound Southwest Chief at Ellinor, Kansas at 3:52 a.m. The dispatcher had indicated that we were supposed to pull into the siding and wait for the westbound train, but as far as I could tell, we barely had to wait at all. Since the westbound train is supposed to arrive in Newton at 3:39 a.m., it was running about an hour late.

I fell asleep again, and slept through our stops in Topeka and Lawrence. I finally awoke again when we stopped about 6:30 a.m. at the DeSoto Yard, a short distance outside of Kansas City, to switch some RoadRailers. This yard - located in the middle of a soybean field in a rural area - was set up by Amtrak for the sole purpose of handling RoadRailers destined to or from the Kansas City area. There is no longer a switch engine at this yard, so all switching moves are handled by our entire train moving back and forth into the yard -- a move that consumed about half an hour. As we passed by the yard, I noticed one RoadRailer that had been removed from our train. (Subsequently, by counting the RoadRailers on the train when we went around a sharp curve, I discovered that two RoadRailers had also been added at the DeSoto Yard.)

During our stop at the DeSoto Yard, I noticed a man sitting behind me following the proceedings on a scanner. He was a fellow railfan who was traveling with his wife and children to visit his parents in Kalamazoo. We exchanged helpful information about the various frequencies being used for train communications.

We next proceeded to the Argentine Yard for refueling, followed by an inspection of the train by the conductor, since there had been a report that there might be some dragging equipment (none was found). Finally, we proceeded ahead at 8:02 a.m. and arrived at the Kansas City station at 8:17 a.m. As can be imagined, the various switching and servicing stops made by the train in the Kansas City are time-consuming and annoying (formerly, RoadRailers were not handled on this train, and most servicing was done during the Kansas City station stop).

Due to the reconstruction of the platform at the Kansas City station, we had to make two stops here. Since Kansas City was announced as a smoking stop, I stepped off the train and walked briefly into the station. When I reboarded, the attendant assigned a boarding passenger to sit in the seat adjacent to me. This woman was bound first to Chicago, where she would be staying overnight with relatives, and then to Michigan for a family reunion. We departed Kansas City at 8:44 a.m., 23 minutes late.

I now decided to walk down to the lower level of the lounge car, where there were several tables unoccupied. The counter was closed for service, since the attendant was taking a break, and there were some kind of cartoons being shown at the other end of the car. I brought my computer to the lounge car and updated these memoirs, then returned to my seat. While in the lounge car, I watched as we crossed the Missouri River on a long trestle, with a sharp curve on the east side.

I observed our train pass the Marceline station, formerly a stop for the Southwest Chief. About half an hour later, we arrived at La Plata, where we made two brief stops. When we departed La Plata at 11:06 a.m., we were 35 minutes late.

Our next stop, Fort Madison, Iowa, was announced as a smoking stop, so I took advantage of the opportunity to detrain and walk into the modern station. The 1967 Santa Fe timetable that I brought along shows trains stopping both at a downtown Fort Madison location and at the yards just south of the city - a service stop designated as Shopton. The current Fort Madison station is at the location formerly designated as Shopton.

After we departed the Fort Madison station at 12:20 p.m., I watched as we passed through the downtown Fort Madison area. For the first time, I observed two historic stations in the downtown area. The one adjacent to our tracks is the old Santa Fe station, with the old Burlington Route station just to the west. Both stations have now been converted into museums. I then watched as we crossed the massive truss bridge over the Mississippi River and entered Illinois.

At Cameron, I watched us switch from the ex-Santa Fe line to the ex-Burlington line, used by all Amtrak trains from Chicago to Galesburg since 1996. A large group of Boy Scouts would be detraining at Galesburg, so the stop was announced as a smoking stop. That permitted me to step off the train and walk into the station building, which is located about 200 feet from the tracks. This historic station features a very attractive wood-paneled interior. I also watched as the Scouts removed their backpacks from the baggage compartment of the second coach. Our stop at Galesburg lasted for six minutes, and when we departed Galesburg at 1:28 p.m., we were nearly an hour late. However, there is about an hour's make-up time built into this train's schedule, so I am still anticipating an on-time arrival in Chicago.

When we departed Galesburg, a number of seats opened up, so the woman sitting next to me moved to other seats to be able to sit with her family. I now had two seats to myself again. I continued to update these memoirs, and also fell asleep for awhile.

Our next two stops - Princeton and Mendota - were very brief. A few people got off at Princeton, but no one detrained or boarded at Mendota. The conductor told the engineer to just "stop and go," and that is what he did. We hadn't even come to a full stop when the conductor gave the "highball" signal.

I now walked down to the lounge car for the last time on this trip. By now, the car was half empty. Then I returned to my seat. I noticed as we passed the Aurora terminus of the Metra commuter line that an eastbound commuter train was paralleling us to the left. We slowed down and then came to a stop, as the commuter train passed us. Apparently, the BNSF dispatcher was giving the Metra train priority over us, which is certainly understandable under the circumstances. Thus, we lost a few more minutes, and we did not arrive at the Naperville station, our suburban Chicago stop, until 3:44 p.m. Although it was announced that there would not be time to get off the train at Naperville to smoke, it was obvious to me that the stop would have to last for a few minutes, since quite a number of Scouts with backpacks were detraining here. I stepped off the train briefly, and noticed several smokers doing likewise. When we departed Naperville after a seven-minute stop, we were one hour and 17 minutes late.

An announcement to all attendants was made over the PA system that our train would become the eastbound Capitol Limited, Train #30, and it should therefore be cleaned and prepared accordingly. This sharing of equipment between the Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited started about six years ago. At first, it was even anticipated that the two trains would be assigned a single number, and for several years, passengers were permitted to remain onboard with their belongings during the layover in Chicago. Because of problems caused by the lateness of one of the trains, this run-through was abolished some time ago, but it was reinstated recently because of the limited equipment availability due to a number of recent train wrecks.

Soon after we departed Naperville, I noticed a triple meet on the three-track BNSF line that we were following: We were proceeding east on the eastbound local track, a Metra commuter train was proceeding west on the westbound local track, and a BNSF freight train was proceeding west on the center express track. Soon, we switched to the center track. About 4:00 p.m., I noticed a westbound Amtrak train pass us to the left. Another similar train passed us ten minutes later. It seems that these two trains were the California Zephyr, scheduled to leave Chicago Union Station at 2:15 p.m. (and obviously running a little late), and the Southwest Chief, Train #3, scheduled to leave Union Station at 3:15 p.m. I then heard a communication from the dispatcher advising that a passenger who detrained at Naperville left two suitcases on the train, and the crew was asked to bring the suitcases to Station Services, where the passenger would pick them up tonight.

Our arrival in Chicago was, as might be expected, delayed by the back-up move that is required to enter Union Station. We first cut off the express and mail cars from the rear of the train, then proceeded south across the 21st Street bridge, and finally backed up onto Track 26 at Union Station. Each step was accompanied by a significant delay (one occasioned by waiting for a Metra train to pass us), and we did not arrive on Track 24 at Union Station until 4:49 p.m, 16 minutes late. We detrained and went into the waiting room to await the departure of our connecting trains to New York, Boston and Pittsburgh.

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Dan Chazin / Other Writers


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