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Dan Chazin's Trip on the Amtrak Three Rivers
New York-Chicago
TrainWeb.com/travelogues/dchazin/2004f28a/2004f28a.html

It's 11:52 a.m. on Monday, June 28, 2004, and I've just arrived at Penn Station in New York where I will be boarding the Three Rivers on my way to Chicago, and then via the Empire Builder to Minneapolis. The purpose of the trip is to attend the National Railway Historical Society convention in Minneapolis, and I will be traveling with my friend and fellow rail enthusiast Gary Kazin.

I left my home in Teaneck about 10:50 a.m., walked to Route 4, and took the "Spanish Van" over the George Washington Bridge. I had to wait about ten minutes for a van to come, and although there was relatively little traffic on Route 4, the bridge itself was rather congested, and we did not arrive at the George Washington Bridge Bus Station until 11:24 a.m. That did, though, afford me sufficient time to catch the 11:30 a.m. A Train from the 175th Street Station, and I arrived at Penn Station at 11:52 a.m. - with 23 minutes remaining to catch my train.

I walked into the Club Acela at 11:55 a.m., only to have Gary greet me with the news that the track of our train had just been announced. Although it was not yet posted on the monitors, an announcement had been made in the Club Acela that the Three Rivers would depart from Track 12. So we both went down to the track and boarded the train.

How it came about that I'm sharing this room with Gary is an interesting story in itself. Several months ago, Gary decided to take the Three Rivers/Empire Builder to the convention, and he made a reservation for himself, which included booking a sleeper for the Three Rivers. He offered to share the sleeper with me, but at the time, I was not certain that I would be going to the convention in Minneapolis. When I finally decided to go, I had to purchase a rail ticket that would permit me to ride on the train and share the sleeper room. Since this was a rather unusual type of reservation, I decided to let Gene Poon - who had originally purchased the ticket for Gary - handle the transaction. He did so, and secured a very favorable price for my rail ticket (I reimbursed Gary for half of the cost of the sleeper). But the result was that I had an "airline-type" ticket that did not have the reservation number - or even the room number - on it.

This became evident a few days ago when I called Amtrak to confirm my reservation. It took a little time and effort, but the reservations agent finally found my reservation and confirmed that the manifest shows me as sharing the room with Gary. Not until this morning, though, when I called Gary to confirm our arrangements, did I find out that we would be sharing Room 4 in Car 4101.

This will be the first time that I'm sharing a standard bedroom in an Amtrak sleeper with another person. Well, actually, it's the second - I did share a room on the Capitol Limited in the summer of 2000 with Michael Gross, when we traveled to Philmont. But in that instance, we missed our connection in Washington and were bussed to Pittsburgh, so we ended up sharing the room only from Pittsburgh to Chicago - and Michael spent very little time in the room, anyway. This time, we will be sharing the room for the entire 21-hour trip from New York to Chicago.

After stowing our belongings in our room, we walked down the platform to record the consist. Today's Three Rivers is pulled by HHP-8 engine #652 and includes two baggage cars (the first being used for mail), our sleeper, Majestic View, Horizon dinette car #53504 (somewhat incongruously named San Luis Obispo), two long-distance Horizon coaches (#51000 and #51001), which had been converted from short-distance Horizon coaches, and an Amfleet II coach. We were in Car #4101, but the number board - which obviously had not been changed since the car arrived on yesterday's Train #40 - read "4001" instead.

We departed one minute late at 12:16 p.m. When the conductor came by to collect tickets, he was a little puzzled by my unusual ticket, but he accepted it. He also mentioned, though, that my name was not on the manifest.

I stepped off the train when we arrived at Newark at 12:29 p.m. I noticed that the departures monitor stated that Track 3 was "out of service" - yet that was the track on which our train arrived! After taking a few pictures, I reboarded the train, and we departed at 12:37 p.m., one minute late. I then walked through the train, counting about 30 coach passengers in each of the first and last coaches, and 10 passengers in the middle coach.

In the meantime, Gary went to the dinette car for lunch. Since I did not care for either of the two selections offered to passengers on this train, I purchased a large cookie and obtained a complimentary cup of tea, and joined Gary at his table. Gary clocked the speed of our train (by counting the time it took to go a mile) and determined that we were moving, at one point, at the rate of 110 miles per hour! I had thought that trains with Heritage cars (we had two Heritage baggage cars on our train) were restricted to 90 miles an hour. I guess that restriction must have changed. When we finished eating, we returned to our room

We arrived at Trenton at 1:09 p.m., seven minutes early, and departed on time at 1:16 p.m. We then proceeded ahead to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, where we arrived at 1:44 p.m. We are not scheduled to depart until 2:25 p.m., so I went upstairs, purchased some food, and walked outside to look at the magnificent facade of this grand station. Philadelphia's 30th Street Station is probably the only grand, classic station in the entire country that is still being used today in largely the same form, and still serves essentially the same function, as it did when first built.

At 2:15 p.m., I went back downstairs to our train. I observed a long string of express cars and RoadRailers being added to the train, so I walked to the back of the platform to record their numbers. I was able to record the numbers of the three express cars and eight RoadRailers, but there were other RoadRailers which extended beyond the end of the platform, and whose numbers I could not determine. I then reboarded the train. Although I did not get a chance to walk to the front of the train, Gary informed me that diesel engines #23 and #200 had been added to our train. There was a slight delay due to late loading of baggage, but we finally pulled out of the station at 2:31 p.m., six minutes late.

We now proceeded west along the "Main Line" - the route of today's SEPTA R5 service to Paoli and Downingtown. After our brief stop in Paoli at 2:59 p.m., I decided again to walk back to the coaches and spend some time sitting there. (I now had the backwards-facing seat in our room, since the train reversed direction in Philadelphia, and I preferred to sit facing forward.) I discovered that nearly all seats were occupied in the first two coaches, and that even in the rear car, every seat pair was occupied by at least one passenger. I found one unoccupied pair of seats in the very front of the second coach, and sat down there to work on these memoirs. Soon, the attendant came by and mentioned that she would need these seats at the next stop, as the train was sold out. I assured her that I would vacate my coach seat as soon as it was needed to accommodate other passengers.

I remained in my coach seat for the next 45 minutes, watching the scenic farm country and updating these memoirs. I even fell asleep for a few minutes. Even though my seats did not have folding tables, there was plenty of legroom, and I was able to sit facing forward. As we approached Lancaster, the attendant reminded me that she needed the seats for other passengers, so I returned to my sleeper.

We arrived in Lancaster at 3:44 p.m. and left at 3:48 p.m., three minutes late. Lancaster features a classic brick station with high-level platforms that date back to the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and two ancient Penn Central (ex-NYC) baggage cars that have been sitting on a side track next to the station for many years.

After passing the Harrisburg International Airport and running along the Susquehanna River for some distance, we arrived at the Harrisburg station at 4:23 p.m. Harrisburg features a classic trainshed, with a GG-1 electric engine and a wooden caboose on display on one of the tracks. Gary and I detrained, and I walked to the front of the train to take a picture. On the opposite track was Keystone Train #652, also scheduled to depart at 4:35 p.m.

Our stop in Harrisburg lasted for 12 minutes, and we departed on time at 4:35 p.m., together with Train #652 (which headed east). We watched as we crossed the Rockville Bridge over the Susquehanna River, and then we briefly moved to an unoccupied room on the opposite side of the train to look out for the remnants of an old aqueduct mentioned in the Broadway Limited Route Guide (I think I may have caught a glimpse of it, but it was largely obscured by the vegetation).

Our next stop was Lewiston, where we arrived at 5:48 p.m. The Lewiston station, a brick building in good condition, is the oldest extant structure remaining from the Pennsylvania Railroad. When we departed two minutes later, we were nine minutes late. Just beyond Lewiston, we passed the eastbound Three Rivers, Train #40. This train was scheduled to have arrived in Lewiston at 1:59 p.m., and it is thus nearly four hours late.

I now once again walked to the back of the train, where I observed that all three coaches were still quite full, with all seat pairs occupied by at least one passenger, and most by two. On the way back to my car, I met two men who had boarded the train in Philadelphia and were, like us, on their way to the NRHS Convention in Minneapolis. (The giveaway was that there was a bag from last year's "Star Spangled Rails" convention in Baltimore on one of the seats, and one of the men was wearing an NRHS cap.) They would be transferring to our sleeper in Pittsburgh, and would be heading west Saturday night on the Empire Builder.

About 6:10 p.m., we came to a stop. Soon, we started moving again. We switched over to the eastbound track to pass a westbound freight train, then switched back to the westbound track and passed two eastbound freight trains. We now resumed our normal speed, but had lost a little more time due to these switching maneuvers.

Gary and I went to the dinette for dinner at 6:30 p.m. He had a salad, a pasta dish with cheese sauce and apple pie for dessert. I just got a salad, a Pepsi, and a cup of tea. During dinner, we made a brief stop at Huntingdon, which also features an historic PRR station. When we departed Huntingdon at 6:42 p.m., we were 22 minutes late.

After dinner, we returned to our room, and we soon arrived at Altoona. The Altoona station is a small Amshack, but across the tracks is a railroad museum that features an interesting collection of cars and engines, including a GG-1 electric engine. Our stop at Altoona lasted for five minutes, and when we departed at 7:25 p.m., we were 20 minutes late.

Ten minutes later, we went around the Horseshoe Curve. Unfortunately, although it was light enough to see the curve, it was rather dark, and I didn't even attempt to get any pictures. (Gary did try to shoot a video with his camera, but I doubt that it will come out very well). Soon afterwards, it started raining, which explains why it was so dark, even though the sun would not be setting for over another half an hour. At the top of the climb, we went through the double-track Allegheny Tunnel and then began our descent on the other side of the mountain.

I made one more trip to the rear of the train. Again, nearly all seats in all three coaches were filled, but I did find one unoccupied pair of seats in the rear coach, so I sat down there for a little while. Then I returned to my sleeper, where I remained until we arrived in Pittsburgh.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., when the time for free calling on my cell phone began, I made a number of phone calls. I lost one call due to poor reception, but the reception was generally quite good. Gary used the time to show me some very interesting (and, I might say, excellent) pictures of his trip to Italy last year, as well as some other pictures that he took more recently.

After several more short stops, we arrived at Pittsburgh at 10:03 p.m., only three minutes late. I stepped off and walked down into the station, where I called my railfan friend Chris Blaise from my cell phone, and then reboarded the train. We departed at 10:32 p.m., two minutes late, and proceeded on our way to Chicago.

As I had figured, by the time we departed Pittsburgh, all rooms in our sleeper were occupied. On this train, the attendants switch at Pittsburgh, so we now had a new attendant for our car. He had to make up all of the beds in the various rooms for night occupancy, and we agreed that our room could be made up last. In the meantime, I showed Gary pictures from some of my trips.

About 11:00 p.m., the attendant was ready to make up my room. Gary went to take a shower (he had to remove some suitcases from the shower before doing so), and I moved over to the dinette with my computer. After a few minutes, I returned to my room and climbed into the upper berth. (Even when occupying a Viewliner standard bedroom by myself, I always choose to sleep in the upper berth, so Gary and I had agreed beforehand that I would take the upper berth and he would occupy the lower berth.)

I watched as, west of Pittsburgh, we slowed down and ran neck-to-neck with a westbound freight train. Soon, I fell asleep. I woke up a number of times during the night, but slept through all three of our Ohio stops - Youngstown, Akron and Fostoria. Finally, I awoke as we were pulling into the station at Garrett, Indiana at 4:42 a.m., Eastern Standard Time (the equivalent of Central Daylight Time). By now, it was already light out, and although the station was on the opposite side of the tracks, I was able to read the name of the city from the adjacent water tower. From my SPV Rail Atlas, I could determine that we were already in Indiana, but what was particularly interesting was that my cell phone had automatically switched to the new time zone! Garrett is not a scheduled stop on this train, but I think that it is a crew change point. We made two stops here and departed at 4:46 a.m.

I remained in my upper berth and fell asleep again, waking up for good when we arrived at Nappanee at 5:30 a.m. We were just over an hour late, but we have close to an hour of make-up time built into the schedule, so it looks like we may well arrive in Chicago on time. By this time, Gary had gotten out of bed and was already dressed, so I decided to get up, too. I wanted to take a shower, but the shower was occupied, so I walked to the rear of the train. I found that all seat pairs in the first two coaches were occupied by at least one person (except for one seat pair, whose occupants had just detrained at Nappanee), but the rear half of the third coach was completely empty. I think that that coach was used for passengers going no further than Pittsburgh, so the car emptied out in Pittsburgh and was not filled by passengers boarding at Pittsburgh and beyond.

By the time I returned to my sleeper, the shower was open, so I went in to take a shower. The water was hot - so hot, in fact, that I had to turn down the temperature a little! The shower was, indeed, delightful. When I finished the shower, I returned to my room, with the attendant informing me that Gary had already gone to breakfast. I now finished getting dressed and then went into to the dinette for breakfast.

Unlike the situation yesterday, when the dinette was not at all full for either meal, this morning it was quite full. (The reason for this is that the dinette serves meals only to sleeping car passengers, and the sleeper was over half empty until we arrived at Pittsburgh last night.) A couple with a young child had already sat down at Gary's table, so I sat down at another table with three people. The man sitting next to me had boarded the train in Harrisburg and was also on his way to the NRHS Convention in Minneapolis. The couple across from me were headed to Sacramento, connecting with the California Zephyr.

We were served by Katie, who had a very pleasant manner. Since the other three people at my table had already placed their orders, she forgot about asking me for my order, but once I brought this to her attention, she apologized profusely and quickly brought me my continental breakfast of Rice Krispies and fruit (she had previously provided me with coffee and juice). I really didn't mind the wait, as sitting in the dinette car was a nice change of pace, and I enjoyed talking to other passengers in the setting of a dining car meal.

After breakfast, we returned to our room and started packing up our belongings. We made a brief stop at Hammond-Whiting, the suburban Chicago station, at 7:01 a.m., and continued through a rather unattractive, decaying industrial area. At 7:21 a.m., an announcement was made that the attendant will be coming to collect pillows, with everyone requested to remove their pillows from the pillow cases. This announcement was, obviously, aimed at coach passengers, but I don't recall ever previously hearing such an announcement on an Amtrak train.

At 7:30 a.m., we turned left onto the BNSF main line, which serves as a wye for trains entering Chicago Union Station. After dropping the express cars and RoadRailers, we began our back-up move at 7:43 a.m. On our way into the station, I was able to record the numbers of three of the five RoadRailers that extended beyond the end of the platform in Philadelphia.

After making our safety stop, we came to our final stop on Track 26 at Chicago Union Station at 7:58 a.m. We detrained, and I gave the attendant a $5.00 tip. We then walked into the station and continued to the Metropolitan Lounge. As was posted on All-Aboard, the Metropolitan Lounge has been temporarily relocated to a room just off the Great Hall. It takes longer to get there, but the lounge itself has a high, ornate plaster ceiling, and it is much more spacious than the low-ceilinged lounge that it temporarily replaces. However, there is no self-service baggage storage area adjacent to the lounge; instead, passengers are required to check their luggage with a redcap stationed at a desk just outside the lounge. Also, there does not appear to be a computer phone-line hook-up in this temporary Metropolitan Lounge, and there is no public address system in this room, so all announcements have to be made without the benefit of a microphone.

The free luggage storage would be a great benefit to us, as we had made arrangements to meet two other members of All-Aboard - Robert Madison and Ed Sirovy - and ride some Metra line this morning. Robert (who had come in from Milwaukee this morning on a Hiawatha train) and Ed soon met us in front of the Metropolitan Lounge, and we went over to the Metra ticket counters to look at the timetables and explore our various options for riding a Metra line. The two lines with fairly frequent service that leave from Union Station both had trains that departed at 8:30 a.m. or 8:35 a.m., and by the time we finished checking our baggage, it was too late to purchase tickets and board those trains. So, instead, we decided to take a train on the ex-Chicago and North Western Harvard Line (now known as the Union Pacific Northwest Line).

Trains on this line leave from the Ogilvie Transportation Center (formerly known as North Western Station), located a few blocks north of Union Station. As I had learned from a previous visit to Chicago, it is possible to access the Ogilvie Transportation Center from Union Station by following the north-side platforms to the northern entrance to Union Station on Madison Street. That entrance is just across the street from the Ogilvie Center.

We walked into the Ogilvie Center - a modern facility, located under a skyscraper - and went upstairs to purchase our tickets and board our train. Amazingly, Chicago's Metra commuter service has neither ticket machines nor electronic ticketing. You must purchase your ticket from an agent, and the ticket consists of a preprinted small piece of paper marked with the zone to which you are traveling, and is hand-stamped by the agent to indicate the date of purchase. Metra is one of the few transit systems in the country that still use this antiquated ticketing system. Since today is June 29th - the next-to-last day of the month - there was a very long line at the Metra ticket windows at Union Station, consisting primarily of people purchasing monthly tickets. Fortunately, the lines at Ogilvie were much shorter, and we were able to purchase our tickets relatively quickly.

Our Train #611 was boarding on Track 7. It consisted of five gallery cars, of which only the last three cars were opened. The four of us boarded the second open car, and we went upstairs to sit in the gallery portion of these rather unique cars, with narrow aisles on each side of the car, and adjacent single seats. We departed on time at 9:00 a.m., and we were on time for our entire ride to Barrington, where we arrived at 10:03 a.m.

This line first proceeds through some old neighborhoods in central Chicago and then continues through relatively attractive suburbs. The last portion of the ride goes through a rather rural area (the line itself continues much further, to Harvard, but we did not have time to ride the entire line this morning). Up to just below Palatine, the stop before Barrington, the line has three tracks, with the center track being used for express trains (although most stations have platforms for all three tracks). Some of the stops (particularly the ones closest to downtown Chicago) have no station buildings, or only minimal "Amshack-type" facilities, but a few stations do have imposing buildings, at least one of which is historic.

The Barrington station is one of those with an attractive station structure. It is a rather new building, with a classic exterior design but a cinder block interior. The station is staffed by an agent, who was on duty when we arrived. Over 50 people were waiting to board our southbound train, scheduled to depart at 10:20 a.m. (I was told that a "Taste Chicago" festival was being held in Chicago, and that apparently was the destination of many of the riders.) I used the waiting time to get some cash from an ATM machine located in the station.

Our Train #640 arrived four minutes late at 10:24 a.m. It had six cars, of which five were open. We boarded the fifth car (which had just been opened at this stop) and again took seats in the upper gallery. Interestingly, the crew member assigned to collect tickets in this car had been aboard our outbound train, detrained with us at Barrington, and then boarded Train #640 with us. This is known as a "short turn," and it permits the railroad to use the crew members more efficiently. As we approached Chicago, the train appeared to be quite full, with many people boarding at the Arlington Heights station.

We arrived in Chicago at 11:22 a.m., two minutes late. We walked back to Union Station and proceeded to the entrance to the Metropolitan Lounge, where the four of us were joined by three other All-Aboard members: Stan Brandt, John Bredin and Peter Laws. After having a picture taken of all seven of us, we went to an adjacent restaurant for lunch. We then took a walk north along the Chicago River to a spot where the northbound tracks come out in the open, permitting us to photograph the Hiawatha train leaving Chicago at 1:00 p.m. and a southbound Metra train with a new engine. We then returned to Union Station to await the departure of Train #7, the Empire Builder, which Gary and I would be taking to Minneapolis.

Our trip on the Three Rivers to Chicago worked out quite well overall. The sharing of the room with Gary worked out quite well, despite us being a little cramped at times. From an operational point of view, the train was essentially on time, and nothing out of the ordinary occurred en route. The All-Aboard meeting in Chicago also worked out well. Now we're looking forward to the remainder of our trip on the Empire Builder to Minneapolis.

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Dan Chazin / Other Writers


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