Dan Chazin's Trip on the Amtrak Silver Star
It's about 10:50 a.m. on Wednesday, December 10, 2003, and I've just arrived at Penn Station in New York, where I will be boarding Train #91, the Silver Star, on my way to Miami. I'm going to Florida just for the weekend to join a Boy Scout troop in Miami Beach for a camping trip at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys, and will be flying back on Monday. This will be my first Amtrak trip to Florida in nearly six years - and my first Amtrak long-distance trip since last April - and I'm very much looking forward to it!
I had initially intended to take the "Spanish van" across the George Washington Bridge and then the subway down to Penn Station. But yesterday, my friend Geraldine called me and offered to drive me into Manhattan. She explained that she welcomed the opportunity to come into the city and then drive around to see the holiday decorations. Since I would be carrying some luggage, I decided to accept her offer of assistance. We left Teaneck about 9:45 a.m. and, after making one stop along the way, arrived at Penn Station about 10:50 a.m.
I said goodbye to Geraldine, walked down to the station, and proceeded to the Chase ATM machines in order to withdraw some cash and make a deposit. Then I walked back to the main waiting area and picked up copies of the new NJ Transit timetables, effective December 14th, that show weekday Secaucus Transfer service. (I hope to take advantage of this service when I fly back to Newark Airport on Monday - the first day that the Secaucus Transfer station will be open for weekday service.) It was now about 11:10 a.m., and I anticipated that the boarding call for the Silver Star was about to be made.
But that was not to be the case. Rather than a boarding call, I heard an announcement that the departure of Train #91 would be delayed, due to the "late arrival of the equipment" (my sleeping car attendant subsequently informed me that the real reason for the delay was a problem with some of the toilets). This would not be the first time that I've experienced such delays on Amtrak, and a delayed departure would give me the opportunity to spend some time in the Club Acela (formerly called the Metropolitan Lounge), where complimentary beverages, comfortable seating and Internet access are available.
I walked into the Club Acela and presented my ticket to the attendant, who assured me that an announcement would be made when my train was ready for boarding. I then settled down to take advantage of the facilities that the Club Acela offers. At first, I couldn't find a telephone jack to plug in my computer, but there were two computers provided by Amtrak that could be used to access the Internet. So I used one of those computers to check my AOL mail and to write an article about our Scout troop's activities for our sponsoring institution's bulletin, which I then sent to the bulletin's editor. I had received a message with a large file as an attachment. However, the limitations of the computer that I was using made it impossible for me to download the attachment.
I then went out to the main part of the lounge, where I found a non-pay phone that I could use to make local calls without charge. I decided to unplug that phone and plug my computer into the jack, and thereby succeeded in getting on the Internet with my own computer and downloading the attachment! I also checked my phone messages and made a few phone calls.
Finally, at 12:21 p.m., an announcement was made that passengers for the Silver Star should assemble at the east gate of Track 9. So I put away my belongings and walked down there, but found no train or, indeed, any indication that my train would be arriving on that platform. I went back upstairs, just in time to hear an announcement that the Silver Star would soon be ready for boarding on Track 12! (Perhaps I misunderstood the first announcement in the Club Acela, but I thought that I had heard "Track 9" being announced.) In any event, I now proceeded down to Track 12, where the Silver Star was waiting. I put my belongings away in my Room 10 in Car #62020, named Moonlight View - the second sleeper on the train - and walked down the platform to record the consist.
Today's Silver Star is pulled by HHP-8 electric engine #663 and includes a baggage car, a crew dorm car, two Viewliner sleepers, a diner, a "Club" series lounge car that includes an enclosed smoking room, and four coaches. This is the first time that I've ridden an Amtrak long-distance train that is pulled by one of the new HHP-8 engines (which resemble the engines used on the Acela Express trainsets), and only the third time that I've ridden behind one of these engines at all. I've twice been on trains with our diner #8553 - including my first Amtrak trip to Florida, on the Silver Star in January 1991, and my first trip on the Capitol Limited - in February 1994, when it still had a dome car. But this will be the first time that I'll be eating in this car since it was reconditioned (Amtrak has only one Viewliner dining car, which was built as a prototype and, I believe, is now out of service, so it has to use Heritage diners for all of its single-level long-distance consists). Interestingly, three of the four coaches on today's train have never previously been included in the consist of trains that I've ridden. Although I had determined from checking Amtrak's web site that all sleeping car accommodations on this train were sold out (and the attendant confirmed that this was the case), only three of the rooms in my car (including my own room) were occupied when we departed Penn Station. Presumably, the car will fill up at subsequent stops.
We departed at 12:41 p.m., one hour and 11 minutes late. My friendly attendant Richard came by to acquaint me with the amenities provided, but realized that I had traveled on Amtrak previously and did not need a detailed explanation.
Soon after we left Newark at 1:01 p.m., the attendant came by to announce that lunch was now being served. So I walked back to the dining car, where I was seated opposite two women who had boarded in Newark and were headed for DeLand - the nearest stop to their home in Daytona Beach. One of the women had come to New Jersey to visit her children and grandchildren, and I think that the other woman was her sister. They had boarded the train in Newark and shared a standard bedroom in the first sleeper (I was in the second sleeper, directly in front of the dining car). The dining car was virtually deserted for lunch, with only eight passengers (all of whom, presumably, were in the sleepers) eating their meal in the diner. Our meals were served promptly, and they were quite tasty.
After lunch, I walked through the train. I found that the rear coach was closed off, and that passengers were assigned to coaches based on their destinations. The first car, where Florida-bound passengers were assigned, had about 30 passengers, and there were about 30 passengers total in the next two cars. I then returned to my room and began writing these memoirs.
When we arrived at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia at 2:06 p.m., I stepped off the train and took a few pictures. The attendant informed me that we would not be changing engines here (the timetable seems to allow enough time to do so), and that we'd probably be departing in about 10 minutes. So I didn't go upstairs to the station concourse, as I often do during our stop in Philadelphia. During our Philadelphia stop, a woman who was taken to the train in an Amtrak wheelchair by a redcap boarded the accessible room in my car, and Room 9, directly opposite mine, was filled by a man who was traveling to Delray Beach. We did end up spending 20 minutes in Philadelphia - primarily because a very large quantity of mail had to be loaded onto the train - but when we departed at 2:26 p.m., we were only 49 minutes late. During our station stop, Acela Express train #2159 passed us. It departed Philadelphia at 2:19 p.m., ten minutes late.
While we were waiting in Philadelphia, I heard on the scanner a communication from the dispatcher relating to a "bridge strike" at milepost 8.64. Sure enough, at 2:40 p.m., when we got to the bridge in question (between Glenolden and Norwood), we slowed to about five miles per hour. The conductor confirmed that the words "bridge strike" meant exactly that - a truck had hit the bridge several hours ago, and until the bridge could be inspected by a qualified structural engineer to determine whether it had been damaged, all trains proceeding over the bridge were restricted to five miles per hour. At least as far as I could see, though, there did not appear to be any damage to the bridge.
We arrived at Wilmington at 2:57 p.m. and left two minutes later. The platform was quite full with people waiting for a train, but it seems that most of them were awaiting not our train, but northbound Regional Train #186, which passed us south of the station at 3:01 p.m., with two AEM-7 engines and eight cars. That train had been scheduled to arrive at Wilmington at 2:38 p.m., so it was running about 25 minutes late.
After Wilmington, I again walked through the train and found that about 20 additional coach passengers had boarded since Trenton. Then I returned to my room and continued working on these memoirs. It was gloomy outside and had started to drizzle. The scenery between New York and Washington offers little of interest, and the dreary weather made it even less interesting. I decided to obtain a cup of tea, but found that the coffee maker was missing from its designated location in my sleeper. So I walked into the first sleeper, where the coffee maker was working, and the attendant assisted me in obtaining my tea. It was nice to know that complimentary hot beverages were available in the other sleeper.
At 3:56 p.m., we arrived in Baltimore. As we departed the station, I noticed a light-rail vehicle ascending the steep (about 10%) grade that leads up from the station to a connection with the main light-rail route. This brought back memories of my visit to Baltimore last July, when I briefly attended the National Railway Historical Society convention and rode the light rail to and from Penn Station.
We arrived on Track 26 at Washington Union Station at 4:40 p.m. Across from us, on Track 25, was the westbound Capitol Limited, scheduled to depart at 5:20 p.m. Interestingly, this trainset included baggage car #1800, which features a large illustration of the Vermonter. The car was formerly assigned solely to the Vermonter, but it is now part of the general pool of baggage cars and can appear on any train. Richard, my attendant, assured me that we would be in the station for 20 to 30 minutes, since we had to change engines. So I went upstairs, made a phone call, and walked into the imposing Great Hall. At 4:51 p.m., the final boarding call for our train was announced, so I decided to return to the train - only to find that our diesel engine #64 was just about to be put on the train. (Until recently, virtually all Amtrak long-distance trains were assigned at least two diesel engines, but earlier this year, Amtrak adopted a policy to run some trains with only one engine.)
As I walked down the platform, a tall young man with an Amtrak employee ID tag hanging around his neck came over to me. He was Harris Cohen, a very active rail passenger advocate from Chicago, who is attending college in the Washington area. He secured a part-time internship in the Government Affairs department of Amtrak, with his office at Washington Union Station. Having read my post to All-Aboard in which I mentioned that I would be traveling on this train, he decided to come downstairs and try to find me. This was truly a delightful surprise, as I had met Harris in person only once before (when he was traveling through Penn Station in New York), and I had no idea that he had obtained the internship with Amtrak.
After saying goodbye to Harris, I returned to my room. Quite a few passengers had boarded in Washington, and only four rooms in my car remained unoccupied. We departed at 5:08 p.m., having spent 28 minutes in Washington, and were now only 33 minutes late. Despite our 20-minute stop in Philadelphia and the further delay resulting from the "bridge strike," we had made up 38 minutes of time since we left New York.
When we pulled out of the Alexandria station at 5:28 p.m., I once again walked through the train. There were only about 15 people eating dinner in the dining car (passengers had been given a choice of either a 5:00 p.m. or a 7:00 p.m. dinner sitting, and it seems that most opted for 7:00 p.m.), but the lounge car was quite full, with at least one person sitting at each table, and every seat in the smoking room occupied. Somewhat to my surprise, all three open coaches were now quite full, with at least one person sitting in each pair of seats, and two people in most of them. The rear coach, though, was still closed off. It was interesting to note that quite a few passengers were using laptop computers, cell phones or CD players - electronic gadgets that were rarely seen on trains (especially long-distance trains) ten years ago. The second and third coaches seemed uncomfortably hot. My room, too, was a little too warm, but the attendant showed me how to shut off the heat, thereby lowering the temperature to a comfortable level.
The 7:00 p.m. dinner call was made at 6:53 p.m., so I went into the dining car, where I was seated opposite the man who occupied Room #9 in my car, and next to a woman who had another room in my sleeper. The man in Room #9 had recently retired and moved to Boynton Beach, Florida, and was returning from driving a car to his son-in-law who lived near Philadelphia. He hadn't taken a train in many years, and decided to take the train this time for the novelty of the experience. (Interestingly, he indicated that he also made his reservation about a week and a half ago - around the same time that I made mine - which would explain why we were assigned rooms opposite each other.) The woman lived in Manhattan but spent her winters in Florida, and was on the way down to her winter home.
Somewhat to my surprise, all meals in the dining car were being served with plastic plates and utensils, rather than real silverware and china (although the man sitting across from me, who had ordered steak for dinner, was provided with a real steak knife). Service seemed rather slow, and I ended up spending about an hour and 20 minutes in the dining car. However, everyone seemed satisfied with the food. For this sitting, the car was pretty full, but it still seemed that relatively few coach passengers chose to eat dinner in the diner. During dinner, we made a ten-minute stop at Richmond and a brief stop at Petersburg. I had originally intended to step off the train during our stop in Richmond, but it was raining rather heavily out, so I'm not sure I would have wanted to get off the train, even if I hadn't been in the midst of dinner. When we departed Petersburg at 8:10 p.m., we were 48 minutes late.
Again I walked back to the lounge car, this time hoping to spend some time there as a change of pace, but I found that all of the tables in the open area (except for two appropriated by the conductors) were already occupied, and the smoking area was overcrowded. So I returned to my room. I noticed the attendant spreading a towel on the floor of the hallway near my room, and he explained that the toilet in the room in front of mine was leaking and that the floor was wet as a result. (Subsequently, the water was shut off to that room.) I also noticed that the seal on the window in my room was broken, and that a little rain was leaking in, as a result.
At 9:33 p.m., we arrived at Rocky Mount. It was still raining heavily, so I decided to stay in my room. As we departed, I heard on the scanner that nine passengers had detrained here and nine had boarded. I continued doing some work on my computer, but finally, about 10:30 p.m., I decided to go to sleep. As is my usual practice when occupying a Viewliner sleeper, I slept in the upper berth. However, half of the rooms in Viewliner sleepers are set up backwards - with your head facing the rear of the train. I had one of those rooms, so I rearranged the bedding so that my head would be facing forward. It's a little awkward to do this, as the portion of the bunk designed for the head is wider than the portion designed for the feet, but I always like to sleep on a train with my head facing forward.
I got a fair amount of sleep during the night, although I woke up for each of the seven station stops that we made. My room was on the left side of the train, so I could see only the Raleigh and Savannah stations (the other stations, I believe, are on the right side of the train). There was only one blanket provided with the bedding, and I got a little cold during the night. Although I'm sure the attendant would have provided me with an extra blanket had I asked, I didn't feel like bothering him at this late hour. However, since I would be camping for the weekend, I had brought along a light sleeping bag. I pulled out the bag from my suitcase, opened it up, and spread it out as an additional blanket. It was just what I needed to stay warm!
At 6:58 a.m., we passed a northbound Amtrak train that must have been Train #90, the Palmetto (that is the only Florida train that does not have sleepers). It was interesting to look down at the train from the upper windows of my Viewliner room! The Palmetto is scheduled to leave Jacksonville at 1:08 a.m., so it was running over four hours late. (Subsequently, I found out why the train was so late. Northbound Train #90 was involved in a grade crossing accident near Fort Lauderdale. Not only was the car involved demolished and the driver killed, but the car somehow ended up under the lounge car of the train, damaging the undercarriage of that car. The entire trainset had to be taken out of service and the passengers bused to Jacksonville, where the arriving trainset of Train #89 was turned around to become Train #90, with the southbound passengers on Train #89 being bused to Miami with the same buses that were used to transport the northbound passengers to Jacksonville.)
It started getting light out, and I could see that the vegetation had changed to the pine forests and swamps typical of the southeast. About 7:15 a.m., I decided to get up and take a shower. The shower in my sleeper was occupied, so I walked down to the front sleeper, where the shower was vacant. However, when I turned on the water, it was barely lukewarm, so I returned to my car and waited until the shower was vacated. The water in my car's shower was quite warm, and the shower was refreshing. I then returned to my room and got dressed.
At 7:50 a.m., we came to a rather abrupt stop. On the scanner, I heard that a communications cable on car #25008 had fallen out (there is no such car on our train; presumably, the intended reference was to our lounge car #28005). The problem was quickly remedied, and we were on our way four minutes later.
About 8:20 a.m., I walked back to the lounge car, where the conductor informed me that we should be arriving in Jacksonville in about half an hour. That would afford me enough time to eat breakfast before our arrival, so I went to the dining car and sat down for breakfast. I was seated opposite the same woman who sat next to me last night. She did not speak English very well and was not particularly talkative. At the table opposite me were sitting a couple with their seven-month-old daughter. They were from the State of Washington and were traveling around the country on Amtrak, using a 30-day Amtrak/VIA rail pass and staying at the homes of relatives and friends. On this train, they were traveling in coach, but they told me that on the two previous legs of their trip - from Denver to Chicago on the California Zephyr and from Chicago to Washington on the Capitol Limited - they had upgraded onboard to a sleeper, with the upgrade charge being only $78 in one case and $60 in the other! (Sleeping accommodations on the Silver Star were sold out, so they could not upgrade on this train.)
At 8:56 a.m., as I was finishing breakfast, we arrived at the Jacksonville station - a modern Amtrak structure, located in an isolated area northwest of downtown. It was announced that passengers could step off the train here, so I detrained, went into the station to check my messages, and walked down the platform to take a few pictures of the engine. Jacksonville is a service stop where the engine is refueled and the train watered, so even though we were late, our stop lasted for 25 minutes. When we departed at 9:21 a.m., we were one hour and one minute late.
The scenery along Amtrak's line to Florida is not particularly interesting. When I was getting ready to leave for Penn Station yesterday morning, I discovered that I don't own the SPV rail atlas that covers Florida, and I didn't bring along copies of Amtrak's Route Guides or copies of pages from the Rail Ventures book. So I paid relatively little attention to the scenery along the way, mainly noting our station stops.
After updating these memoirs, I decided to walk back to the lounge car, where I brought some newspapers to read. Soon, at 10:32 a.m., we arrived at Palatka, which features a beautifully restored brick station with a Spanish tile roof. Our stop there lasted for two minutes, and when we departed, we were precisely one hour late. I now walked back to the coaches, finding that the first two coaches were quite full, but the third coach was largely empty, with only about 15 people occupying that car. The last car was still closed off.
As I was walking back through the third coach, I noticed a young man with earphones carefully following our route on an atlas and making detailed notes of the time we passed various points along the route. He had traveled from New York to Boston, then took the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, the City of New Orleans to New Orleans, and the Sunset Limited (which had arrived 12 hours late!) to Jacksonville, where he boarded our train. When he mentioned that he lives in Edison, N.J., I immediately realized that he was none other than Chris Blaise, whom I had met in December 2000 on the first run of the Acela Express from Washington to New York, and whose picture appeared in the Boston paper on the following day! This was my second unexpected encounter of a railfan on this trip!
While we were talking, the conductor came by and walked to the rear of the train, opening up the bulkhead door that had closed off that car. When he came back through the car, leaving the door to the rear car open, I inquired whether that car was now open to passengers. He replied that he had opened the bulkhead door for safety reasons - in case of an emergency, passengers might have to exit through that car - but the car was not open for "occupancy." However, he continued by saying that if one of us wanted to walk to the back of the train to take pictures, he had no objection, as long as we did not sit down in that car, and that if questioned by the coach attendant, we could inform him that we had the conductor's permission to do that. I thought that this was very nice of him.
I returned to my room, but soon walked to the rear of the train for our stop at DeLand, which also has an attractive brick station. Our stop here lasted for six minutes, since a handicapped passenger had to be put aboard using a lift. When we departed at 10:26 a.m., we were one hour and three minutes late. Our next stop was Sanford, where we passed the large Auto-Train station and maintenance center before reaching the sprawling 1950s-style brick Amtrak station. A remnant of the day when Sanford was a major division point, the station has several tracks and platforms, but it seemed deserted this morning, and our stop lasted for only one minute.
We stopped briefly at Winter Park - which features a rather unattractive, modern station, but in a beautiful park setting - and then continued on to Orlando. Although the distance from Winter Park to Orlando is only five miles, it took us 15 minutes to cover this distance, as the line proceeds through an urban area, with restricted speeds.
At 12:29 p.m., we arrived at Orlando, with its sprawling white-stucco station that dates back to 1920. There was a large crowd of passengers waiting here, about 25 of whom who would be boarding our train, with the remainder boarding the northbound Silver Meteor, Train #98, which had been scheduled to arrive at 12:21 p.m. Although the Orlando station has two platforms, it is ordinarily impractical to have two trains in the station at the same time, as both platforms are accessed at grade from the station building, and the train on the platform closest to the station would block access to the train on the further platform. I stepped off the train and noticed Train #98 at the south end of the station, awaiting clearance to proceed into the station. It took a while to board the passengers, and the wheelchair lift was needed to assist two passengers - one of whom could walk, but was unable to climb the steps. I took a number of pictures and briefly walked inside the station, whose interior has a somewhat shabby appearance, not nearly as grand as the exterior.
By about 12:45 p.m., we were ready to depart - except for one problem. The local EMS service had been called to take a passenger off the train in a stretcher, and although an EMS crew had arrived, they did not come with an ambulance or a stretcher. So Train #98 was given permission to proceed into the station, occupying the track immediately adjacent to the station and temporarily blocking access to our train. Train #98 pulled into the station at 12:48 p.m. and departed at 12:56 p.m. That train was now 42 minutes late, and in retrospect, it would have made much more sense to let that train come into the station ahead of us. After Train #98 departed, our train remained in the station, waiting for the EMS ambulance to arrive. It finally came about 1:10 p.m. The passenger was taken off the train, and we departed Orlando at 1:18 p.m. We had spent 51 minutes at Orlando, instead of the ten minutes we were scheduled to spend there, and we were now one hour and 34 minutes late.
Subsequently, my car attendant explained that the passenger concerned was a 28-year-old man who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident. He had boarded in Washington and - with his attendant - occupied the handicapped-accessible room in the first sleeper. The plan had been for a private ambulance to meet the train at Orlando, but the attendant was unable to reach the ambulance service, and the ambulance never arrived. So the conductor contacted the station agent, who called the local emergency medical service. Given the particular circumstances, there probably wasn't much else that could have been done.
As soon as we departed Orlando, I went into the dining car for lunch, which was served quite promptly. Sitting opposite me was a man from Washington, D.C. who was coming down on short notice to attend a tax seminar tonight in Fort Lauderdale. The seminar started at 7:30 p.m., and his cousin was picking him up in West Palm Beach to drive him there. I assured him that, despite our lateness, we should arrive in West Palm Beach no later than about 5:00 p.m., which should give him sufficient time to get to his seminar. He found the trip very pleasant (he was traveling in coach), and said that he would probably take his whole family down to Florida by train this summer. During lunch, we stopped at Kissimmee, with a beautiful park that includes a fountain directly opposite the station.
After lunch, I went back to the third coach to spend some time talking to Chris Blaise. Chris mentioned to me that when he gets back to New Jersey on Sunday, he will be packing for a two-week trip to Chile to visit his girlfriend. (Ironically, on Saturday, he will be taking the train from Florida to return to New Jersey, and then on Monday, he'll by flying back to Florida to connect with his flight to Chile!) We exchanged addresses and phone numbers and promised to keep in touch.
At 3:17 p.m., we stopped at Sebring, which has an attractive stucco station. When we departed two minutes later, we were one hour and 44 minutes late, having lost another ten minutes since we departed from Orlando. However, in response to a question by another passenger, the conductor indicated that we should be arriving in Miami about 6:00 p.m. (which would mean that we would be making up an hour of time). I returned to my room, did some work on these memoirs, and fell asleep for a few minutes.
About 4:30 p.m., I again went back to visit Chris in the third coach. Up to now, we had been moving ahead at track speed, without any significant delays, but as we approached West Palm Beach, we came to a stop at 4:48 p.m. We soon moved ahead at a restricted speed. The reason for this was trackwork being done in the area. Tri-Rail is in the process of double-tracking the rail line from Mangonia Park (just beyond West Palm Beach) to Miami, and we could see a second track, with concrete ties, that had just been installed in the area. About 4:55 p.m., we were passed by the northbound Palmetto, Train #90, which had been scheduled to leave West Palm Beach at 4:46 p.m., and was thus pretty much on time (at least up to this point!). We finally arrived at the West Palm Beach station at 5:07 p.m. When we departed four minutes later, we were one hour and 49 minutes late. It does not appear that we'll be getting to Miami by 6:00 p.m.!
South of West Palm Beach, we continued to move at a crawl. At about 5:25 p.m., we were switched onto a siding and stopped to await the passage of a northbound Tri-Rail train. We were going nowhere fast, but I didn't care, as I had nothing special to do tonight, and I was enjoying the comfort of my Viewliner bedroom. I used the time to pack up my belongings. Soon, I heard a crew member on the scanner asking whether they should advise the dispatcher that they will "go on the law" (i.e., reach their maximum hours of service) in three hours - apparently insinuating that we might not get to Miami by then! But at 5:39 p.m., the Tri-Rail train came by, and we resumed moving a minute later. We finally arrived at our next stop, Delray Beach, at 5:55 p.m. It had taken us 44 minutes to cover a distance of 18 miles, for which 21 minutes is allotted in the timetable. When we departed Delray Beach one minute later, we were two hours and 13 minutes late, having lost an additional 24 minutes since we left West Palm Beach. Although sunset in Miami is nearly an hour later than in New York, it was now completely dark out.
We lost some more time south of Delray Beach when we slowed down to permit another Tri-Rail train to pass us (although this time, we did not come to a complete stop). Thus, we arrived at Deerfield Beach at 6:20 p.m., and when we left three minutes later, we were two hours and 26 minutes late. But the line is double-tracked from Deerfield Beach to Fort Lauderdale, and we used our allotted 18 minutes - and no more - to get there.
Before we arrived at Fort Lauderdale, I walked back to the third coach to say goodbye to Chris. One of the two coach attendants had detrained in Winter Haven to return north on Train #92, leaving only one coach attendant to take care of the three open cars. So, once we departed from West Palm Beach, that attendant had requested all remaining passengers to move to one of the two front coaches. Chris checked and found no empty pairs of seats in those coaches, and he insisted on remaining in the third coach. Since he was going all the way to Miami, the attendant let him remain there. By now, he was the only passenger left in that car. We talked for a few minutes and promised to stay in touch when we returned to New Jersey, and I then returned to my room.
It took us only 11 minutes to reach our next stop, Hollywood. During our station stop, I was sitting in my room working on these memoirs when the attendant came by and said that someone on the platform wanted to see me. So I walked over to the door, where Tim Lynch - a member of the All-Aboard List - was waiting to greet me. Tim was one of the two All-Aboard members who responded to the post in which I announced my trip (the other one lived near Jacksonville and indicated that he probably wouldn't be able to meet me), and Tim had stated that he would try to meet me at Hollywood. I had forgotten all about it, but since Tim assumed that I would be in a sleeper, he was able to request the attendant to get me. By this time, all sleeper passengers bound for Hollywood had already detrained, and the attendant was about to close the door and didn't want me to get off the train. But after he closed the door, he opened the window so that I could stand by the open window and talk to Tim until we pulled out of the station.
The stop ended up taking 14 minutes - much longer than I had anticipated. Some of this resulted from a delay in unloading baggage, but once we were ready to leave, we had to wait for a northbound Tri-Rail train approaching on single track south of the station. Then once that train arrived, we couldn't proceed until the dispatcher lowered the gates at the Hollywood Boulevard grade crossing, just south of the station. So I ended up having about ten minutes to talk to Tim, and Tim's trip to the station wasn't in vain. When we departed from Hollywood at 7:06 p.m., we were two hours and 35 minutes late.
I returned to my room, updated these memoirs, and finally put away my computer to prepare for our arrival in Miami. Although the schedule allows 49 minutes for the 14-mile trip from Hollywood to Miami, there is significant padding built into that schedule, and the trip actually takes little more than 20 minutes.
My Amtrak trip concluded when we pulled into the Amtrak Miami station at 7:29 p.m., two hours and nine minutes late. I detrained and gave the attendant a $5 tip since, although he didn't do all that much for me, he had a very friendly and positive attitude. I walked down the platform to find Emanuel, the son of the Scoutmaster who had invited me to accompany them to the Keys, and his mother waiting for me at the station. We got into their van and drove to their home in Miami Beach.
My trip to Miami on the Silver Star was a delightful, relaxing experience, which was enhanced by meeting several friends and All-Aboard members along the way. It really felt good to, once again, ride an Amtrak long-distance train. I'll be going down to Florida again in January, and I hope to go by train for at least one leg of that trip.
Many more rail travelogues for you to read:
Dan Chazin /
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