Dan Chazin's Trip on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited
It's 7:42 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, 2002, and we're at Chicago Union Station, about to board the Lake Shore Limited on our way to New York. This will be the final leg of our summer's trip to Philmont and the Grand Canyon.
We arrived at Union Station about three hours ago on the Southwest Chief. As we pulled into the station on Track 24, I noticed a train consist on the adjacent Track 26. This consist was rather unusual in that it had two "Club" series lounge cars in the middle of the train. Soon after we settled into the waiting room to wait for our connecting train, an announcement was made that tonight's Train #48 and #448 would not have a dining car, although it would have two lounge cars. Passengers desiring a full meal were requested to eat at a restaurant in Chicago prior to departure. It thus became apparent that the train on Track 26 was going to be our train this evening.
Some of the boys went out to purchase some food or do some sightseeing. I remained in the waiting area and signed online to AOL, using a data jack in the pay phone in the waiting area. About 6:00 p.m., I went with Etan and Daniel to a nearby Walgreen's, where we purchased some additional food for the trip. Three members of our group would be taking the Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh, so we divided up the food and gave them a fair share.
About 7:15 p.m., the monitors indicated that tonight's Lake Shore Limited would be departing from Gate C, and a long line quickly formed in front of that gate. But passengers were not yet allowed to board, and we remained with our carry-on baggage at the rear of the waiting area. At 7:39 p.m., a boarding announcement was made, but passengers were still not permitted to board. Not until 7:42 p.m., when a "last call" announcement was made, were people permitted to leave the waiting room and board the train.
We proceeded down the platform, past the New York sleepers and the lounge cars, to the New York coaches. We were instructed by the attendant to board the second coach from the rear, but we were among the last passengers to board, and there were no pairs of seats remaining open. So I left my belongings in the overhead rack and went back to find the attendant. He, in turn, referred me to the conductor, who found seats for our group in the third coach from the rear. At 8:04 p.m., soon after we were seated, we pulled out of the station. We were already 19 minutes late, and the "Late for Sure" was once again beginning to live up to its name.
Today's Lake Shore Limited is pulled by Genesis engines #89 and #58 and includes an MHC car, a baggage car destined for Boston, a Boston sleeper, seven Amfleet II coaches (five of which, including the car where we sat, had been refurbished with blue seats and electric outlets at each seat), two Club series lounge cars (Tampa Club and Jacksonville Club), two New York sleepers, a crew dorm car, and a baggage car destined for New York. In our haste to board the train in the limited time available before departure from Chicago, I did not have the time to record the consist, but I did manage to get the numbers of all the cars at some point along our way.
As we pulled out of the station, I noticed a switch engine pushing a string of two express cars and five RoadRailers. On the assumption that these cars would be added to our train, I recorded the numbers of these cars. We stopped at 8:08 p.m., had the freight cars added to our train, and were on our way again by 8:19 p.m.
It took a while for the conductor to come by and collect our tickets. The reason for this was soon announced over the loudspeaker. There was only one conductor onboard tonight on our train leaving Chicago. It seems that no other conductors were available, and while union agreements generally require the presence of two conductors on each train, a train can safely be operated by one conductor if necessary. After our tickets were collected, I walked through the train. I found that the last four coaches were quite full, with the last two cars primarily for passengers destined all the way to New York, and the fourth car from the rear for passengers for stations west of Buffalo. The fifth and sixth coaches from the rear were entirely empty, with all passengers bound for stations between Albany and Boston assigned to the front coach. The front lounge car was in service and open for the sale of food and beverages, but the rear lounge car was empty. The tables in that car had been covered with tablecloths and set with plastic silverware, but the two attendants sitting in that car informed me that no food had been put on board, and thus the car could not be used.
Our first stop, at 8:45 p.m., was at Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. Although we were only 12 minutes late when we departed two minutes later, we lost additional time at several subsequent stops.
About 9:30 p.m., we decided to eat dinner. It would have been much simpler if we had brought all of our food to the lounge car and ate there at two tables that were available. But I didn't want to raise any questions about us bringing personal food to the lounge car and occupying tables that were designed to be used primarily by persons purchasing food and beverages onboard the train, so we decided to eat at our seats. All eight of us (including the three Scouts destined for Boston) crowded around our seats in the New York coach, and even partially blocked the aisle.
Our dinner this evening would be a little special. When Etan and I went shopping in the Flagstaff supermarkets two nights ago, we found lox, cream cheese and bagels. So we decided to have these foods for our dinner tonight. The Sara Lee bagels that we purchased in Flagstaff were supplemented with Thomas bagels purchased at the Walgreen's in Chicago, and there was ample food for all.
We made two stops at South Bend, Indiana, from where we departed at 10:12 p.m., but only one stop at Elkhart. When we departed Elkhart at 10:38 p.m., we were 40 minutes late. Then, at 11:07 p.m., we met the westbound Pennsylvanian, Train #43. Both trains stopped adjacent to each other, and a conductor got off Train #43 and boarded our train. We now had two conductors onboard.
After we finished dinner, I decided to move over to the lounge car, which was largely empty (except for the enclosed smoking section). I brought along my computer and worked on these memoirs. About midnight, I thought about returning to my seat, but I found that Daniel, with whom I shared a pair of seats, was sleeping over both seats. Although the second and third cars from the front were still almost entirely empty (a few people destined for Boston were now assigned to the second coach), every single pair of seats in the last four cars was now occupied. I wasn't all that tired yet, so I went back to the lounge car and continued working on these memoirs. Michael sat at an adjacent table and spent the time calling his friends from his cell phone (he told me that he had 3,000 free night-and-weekend minutes on his phone, so that the calls weren't costing him anything). Occasionally, he lost reception, but for the most part, his cell phone functioned everywhere along our route.
I remained in the lounge car until we reached Toledo at 1:54 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time. Since Toledo is a service stop and we normally stop there for about 15 minutes, I decided to step off the train there and walk down the platform to record the numbers of the engines and front-end cars. But the eastern end of the platform at the Toledo station is curved, and the first car spotted on the platform was the Boston baggage car. So I was unable to record the numbers of the engines, which I'll have to get tomorrow morning at some other stop.
About two dozen passengers boarded the train in Toledo and, for the first time, the third coach from the front was opened and used to accommodate these passengers. After we departed Toledo at 2:12 a.m., 47 minutes late, I decided to go to sleep. Rather than disturbing Daniel, I elected to sleep on the floor in the space in back of the handicapped seat in the rear of our coach. This space is designed to accommodate the wheelchair of the handicapped person, but the person sitting in that seat, although partially handicapped, was able to walk on her own and did not have a wheelchair or other mobility device. So the space was occupied by a suitcase belonging to a woman sitting two seats forward and by a box containing food that we had brought on the train. I moved the suitcase to the space in back of the rear seat on the other side of the aisle, and I moved our box to the overhead storage rack. Then I brought down my sleeping bag and pillow and stretched out, with my feet under the handicapped seat. This arrangement was fairly comfortable, as the floor was carpeted, my large pillow provided good cushioning for my head, and I was able to recline in a fully horizontal position. It was a little bumpy, of course, but I did succeed in getting some sleep. I slept through our stop in Sandusky, but did wake up when we reached Elyria, the next stop.
I also woke up when we arrived at Cleveland about 4:20 a.m. I got up and walked down to the third coach, where the twenty-or-so passengers boarding at Cleveland were directed. I did step off the train briefly, but since we were running late, I did not have the chance to go into the station or walk down the platform. When we departed Cleveland at 4:39 a.m, we were 46 minutes late. We hadn't made up much time, but I was pleased that we weren't losing more time, either. Generally, the worst delays from freight traffic occur west of Cleveland, so I'm optimistic that we will arrive in New York no more than one hour late.
I now went back to sleep, and although I woke up when we arrived in Erie at 6:06 a.m., I remained in my "sleeping space" until about 7:00 a.m. At this point, an announcement was made that the front lounge car is reserved for the use of coach passengers, while the rear lounge will be set aside for sleeping car passengers. I guess that some food has been moved to the rear lounge car, allowing the sleeper passengers to be served breakfast there. I now got up, put away my sleeping bag and pillow, and walked down to the lounge car, where I purchased a cup of coffee, sat down at an unoccupied table, and continued to work on these memoirs. One nice feature of the tables in these reconditioned lounge cars is the addition of electric plugs at each table. We soon passed the abandoned hulk of the Buffalo Central Terminal to our left, and we arrived at the Buffalo-Depew Amtrak station at 7:31 a.m. We made two stops here - the first for coach passengers, and to work the baggage and mail cars in the front of the train, and the second for New York sleeping car passengers and to work the express cars in the rear of the train. I stepped off the train here and was able to finally record the numbers of our two engines and the MHC car in the front of the train.
When we departed Buffalo at 7:52 a.m., we were 56 minutes late. I returned to the lounge car, where the conductors were explaining various facets of the operation of the train to passengers who had asked them questions. Our trip from Buffalo to Rochester was quite speedy, with the defect detectors consistently recording our speed at 79 or 80 miles per hour, and we covered the 61-mile distance between the two stations in only 50 minutes. I again stepped off the train during our stop in Rochester and walked down the platform to the Boston coaches, where I reboarded. Although the platform in Rochester is quite long, we had to make two stops, as the rear sleepers and baggage car did not fit on the platform. Our stop in Rochester lasted for 11 minutes, but due to some extra time built into the schedule, when we departed Rochester at 8:53 a.m., we were only 43 minutes late.
I now returned to my coach. This coach had been intended primarily for passengers traveling to destinations in upper New York State. Thus, a number of passengers had detrained at Buffalo or Rochester, and there were now several pairs of empty seats in our car. I moved to a vacant pair of seats on the left side of our car, took out some cereal and milk, which we had brought with us, and had breakfast. I next reviewed some e-mail messages that I had downloaded yesterday afternoon at Chicago Union Station.
I again stepped off the train during our stop at Syracuse, where we again had to make two stops. Our stop there lasted for ten minutes, and when we departed at 10:12 a.m., we were 42 minutes late.
Our smooth running, however, encountered an obstacle between Syracuse and Utica. It seems that one of the two tracks had been taken out of service for track maintenance, and there was a van train headed towards us on the other track. So we came to a halt at 10:52 a.m., just west of Rome. We waited for the train to pass us at 11:02 a.m., and then finally resumed our journey at 11:07 a.m. We had lost over 15 minutes due to what the conductor termed, in an announcement to passengers, an "unanticipated delay" due to "CSX freight train interference." This is the first time this morning that we have had to wait for a freight train to pass; hopefully, it will be the last.
As we pulled into the Utica station at 11:26 a.m., the beautifully painted equipment of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad was visible on the platform to the left. Just this year, an overpass was completed, linking the historic Utica Union Station with the tracks to the north of the CSX line used by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Passengers riding the Adirondack Scenic Railroad now board their trains from this magnificent station, rather than having to use an inconvenient facility some distance away. I have never ridden this line yet, but hope to do so in the near future.
About a dozen passengers detrained at Utica, and an equal number boarded. I did step off the train briefly but, as usual, there was not sufficient time to walk into the historic station, which I have never yet seen in person. We only had to make one stop here, and when we departed at 11:31 a.m., we were one hour and five minutes late. The additional lateness, of course, resulted from our wait for the CSX freight train.
I walked down to the Boston coaches to say goodbye to the three members of our group who would be leaving us in Albany, and then went to the lounge car for a change of pace. Avi and Mike were playing cards at one table, and I soon was able to sit down at another table on the right side of the train, overlooking the scenic Mohawk River valley.
Before we arrived at Schenectady, an announcement was made that the café car would close upon our arrival in Schenectady and that all passengers should return to their accommodations. The purpose of this announcement, of course, was to ensure that all passengers would be in the correct cars for their respective destinations. We had to make two stops in Schenectady, and when we departed at 12:49 p.m., we were just over an hour late. After Schenectady, I took out a can of salmon and a bagel, which I had for lunch.
We arrived in Albany at 1:12 p.m. Here, the train splits into the New York and Boston sections. I detrained on arrival and walked to the rear of the train to confirm the numbers of the express cars and RoadRailers that I presumed were added to our train in the Chicago yard (the numbers did check out exactly as I had recorded them, and it turned out that the two express cars on our train had come from Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief that we had just taken from Flagstaff). I also noticed that F-40 engine #280 was being used as a switch engine to remove these cars from our train. Hardly any F-40 engines are currently being used by Amtrak for any purpose at all, so the active use of this engine, even as a switcher, is noteworthy. I then returned to the station at about 1:25 p.m., when a "last call" for boarding our Train #48 was made. At the time, our new engine #717 was just backing up and had not yet coupled to our train, so I knew that our departure was not imminent. But I soon returned to our train, and we departed at 1:37 p.m. Our stop in Albany had lasted for 25 minutes, the exact amount of time allotted in the schedule, and we were now 42 minutes late.
For our trip down the Hudson River to New York, I moved to a seat on the right side of the train, overlooking the river. Unfortunately, though, it was very hazy for the entire trip, and it even rained part of the time. By the time we got to Croton-Harmon, though, the sun came out, and things brightened up a little. We used Mike Gross's cell phone to call everyone's parents to confirm the times of their pick-ups at Penn Station, and then settled back to enjoy the peaceful trip down the river. I started talking to the couple sitting in front of me, who mentioned that they had boarded in Cleveland and had transferred to our car in Albany. I then checked and discovered that the fifth coach from the rear on our train, which had been used to accommodate passengers who boarded in Toledo and Cleveland and were destined to New York, actually was sent to Boston, rather than New York, so all passengers had to transfer from that car to the four cars on the train which did go to New York. We passed by Hudson at 2:00 p.m. and Poughkeepsie at 2:30 p.m., and we made a brief stop at Croton-Harmon to discharge passengers at 3:08 p.m.
When we passed Yonkers at 3:26 p.m., I put away my belongings and prepared for departure. Everything proceeded smoothly until, at 3:44 p.m., we stopped in the tunnel just north of Penn Station. We sat there for eight minutes until we were passed to the left by northbound Train #283, scheduled to leave Penn Station at 3:45 p.m. We then proceeded ahead, and we finally pulled into Track 7 at Penn Station at 3:58 p.m., 38 minutes late. As we detrained, we noticed that on the opposite Track 8 was the equipment for this evening's westbound Lake Shore Limited.
We walked upstairs and went over to the baggage claim area. This is the first time that I have claimed checked baggage at Penn Station. The procedure followed is that when the baggage is ready to be claimed, passengers are allowed to enter a room where all of the bags are arranged. Everyone claims his own baggage, and then the claim receipts are inspected on the way out of the room. It took 20 minutes for the baggage claim area to be opened, but once it was opened, all nine of our checked items were there, and after the inspection of our claim receipts, we were ready to leave. Avi's parents had come to pick him up, so I got a ride home with them, arriving at my home in Teaneck about 5:00 p.m.
Many more rail travelogues for you to read:
Dan Chazin /
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