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Reggie's Cross-Country Amtrak Trip
www.trainweb.com/travelogues/multiple/2000d08.html

This is a journal of my rail trip April 8, 2000. I traveled over 7,000 miles & 25 states. The trip took 10 days with only 2 nights off the train. My trip as planned included travel on 7 different trains, unfortunately I was obliged to ride another train due to a missed train. I began my adventure in Bakersfield where I got a ride from a friend to Los Angeles Union Station. The Coast Starlight used to depart at 9:45AM & I planned to arrive about 9:30. I arrived at 9:35 & stood on the platform watching the train pull out of the station. The departure time was changed to 9:30, a good lesson to check your schedule to make sure of the departure time. Amtrak strives to be on time & is usually on time from the origination point. My ride had left & I was forced to try & catch the train somewhere north. I took the Thruway bus to Bakersfield arriving at 1PM, 6 hours after I had left that morning. I then caught the San Joaquin Train #715 destination Stockton. Arriving into Stockton 5 minutes early I found the bus going to San Jose & asked the driver when we would arrive. He said 6:30 & since the Starlight didn't depart till 7:47 I decided to head for San Jose rather than staying on the train to Oakland where I could have made the connection. They say bad things come in threes & this was number 2. The bus blew a radiator hose near Dublin & we sat on the side of the freeway for almost 90 minutes waiting for a bus sent from San Jose to pick us up. When the bus arrived I knew I couldn't risk missing the train in San Jose & Amtrak considering that arranged for a cab to bring me to Oakland to catch the train there. You're probably wondering why I didn't stay on the train to Oakland. The reason being I wanted to have dinner on the Starlight & depending on the time into Oakland that might not be possible. As it turned out the train was late & the dining car was closed when I boarded in Oakland. Having had only a small salad on the train out of Bakersfield about 6 hours earlier I was very hungry, tired & upset at this point. The steward in the dining car said they would be bringing some snacks to the Parlour Car in about 30 minutes. I was not in the mood for snacks & spoke to the conductor about my predicament. I was in luck after telling my tale of woe trying to catch up with the train & he said he would see what he could do. As it turned out about 15 minutes later the conductor himself brought a tray of food back to the Pacific Parlour Car for me. I had a nice piece of chicken breast & salmon. also a small salad, some dinner rolls and a piece of caramel turtle ice cream pie. Well my luck was changing for the better & I probably enjoyed that meal as much as any on the trip. the attendant also gave me a cocktail as a little token of Amtraks apology for the whole mess. Needless to say finally aboard one of my favorite trains, being pampered, on my way at last I was one happy puppy. I had a night-cap in the Parlour car & then headed to my room #11 in the 1430 car where I was greeted by my attendant who was curious why I had not boarded in L.A. After telling him my tale of woe he sent me off to my room which he had already made up for me & wished me a good nights sleep. As it turned out my attendant was one of the nicest, most helpful, always available attendants I had ever run across on any of my trips. His name was Terry Ray & you'll be happy if you ever have him as your attendant. He always had a smile & a kind word for everyone. He works out of the L.A. crew base & for the most part I have had good service from everyone based in L.A. I soon was fast asleep, unusual for I normally don't sleep well if at all the first night on the train. I guess I was so beat from my trials I slept great for about 7 hours & awoke as we pulled into Dunsmuir. We were about 90 minutes late & after my first cup of coffee I headed for the shower. Sometimes the showers on Amtrak are unpredictable but since this was a newer Superliner II car it worked fine. On the Coast Starlight Amtrak provides a pack with soap, shampoo, hand lotion & hand towels for your use. They also have towels available in the shower room. These packs are not supplied on the other trains although soap & towels are always available. Most of the trains also supply a bag of necessities that the attendant can get something if you need. They include feminine napkins, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors & shave cream. If you forget something ask your attendant he may be able to get them for you. After my shower I got dressed & headed to the Dining car for breakfast after getting another cup of coffee from the sleeping car. I was surprised to find steak & eggs on the menu & as luck would have it I got the steak I wanted last night. This is the only train that I have seen this breakfast item offerred. It wasn't a little breakfast steak either. It was what appearred to be a nice N.Y. strip steak. I had 2 eggs over with toast, grits, O.J. & more coffee. The food on Amtrak is usually quite good & the portions are quite generous. I have never left the diner hungry. We were now almost 2 hours late & I was beginning to worry about my connection to the Empire Builder in Portland. I found a conductor & asked him about it & he cheerfully told me not to worry it was a guaranteed connection. enough said & I headed for the sightseer car as we just left Klamath Falls & would be heading into some of the most beautiful scenery on this route. Earlier we had some great views of Mt. Shasta as we were running late out of Dunsmuir{it's normally 4:30AM}. Another reason why the best travel direction on the Starlight is northbound as a late train allows more scenery in daylight. The South bound train,if late loses some of the little daylight viewing through the Cascades. The only down side is the late arrival into Seattle northbound which can be avoided by overnighting in Portland & taking one of 2 trains from Portland to Seattle the next day at 8:45AM or 12:30. This would also make for better connections to either Victoria or Vancouver when you arrive into Seattle. They just made first call for lunch & we're just a few minutes out of Chemult so I think I'll go to the diner & enjoy lunch as we continue through the Cascade Mountains. There's nothing finer than to eat in the diner while viewing the ever changing scenery unfolding right outside the window. For lunch today I had the coastal wrap, a delicious dish of sliced beef with cheese & black beans in a flour tortilla with a mild chili sauce. It came with a small side salad & I also had a bowl of very good clam chowder. I also finished up with a piece of my favorite turtle pie. I wanted to have a big lunch as the Empire Builder out of Portland doesn't have a diner & all we get in the sleeper is cold meal service. Still about 90 minutes late we pass through Albany & Salem Oregon, still no word about our connection in Portland. I know we have quite a few people making that connection & wonder why no announcement was made. Over 1 & 1/2 hours late we arrive into Seattle about 30 minutes after the scheduled departure of train #28 the Empire Builder. Still no word from anyone as to what's going on. As a travel agent & tour operator I am familiar about the transfer but many making the connection are not. There was a lot of confusion as I quietly headed down the platform & around the end of the Empire Builder & headed for my sleeping car. Eventually everyone was directed to the train & we were on our way departing about 50 minutes late. We travel across the Willamette River, the Slough & then the main channel of the Columbia River into Vancouver Wa. The route of the train takes us almost along the banks of the Columbia river for well over a hundred miles, passing several dams including the Bonneville dam. The scenery is quite spectacular as we head into eastern Washington. Night soon is upon us & the attendant offers us a choice of cold meal packs chicken or sirloin. They both looked nice & the sirloin was quite good. I spoke to several others not aware of the fact there was no diner till we got to Spokane, that thought the meal was quite good also. We make a stop in Wishram & are met by an EMT unit which the conductor had called ahead to meet us. It seems we have a young lady on board having complications from a recent appendectomy that was taken off the train there. I hope she's doing OK, just another example of train travel not being just a trip but rather an adventure. I decided to try & get to sleep early tonight & maybe I can sleep through the commotion when we arrive into Spokane & they add our train to the Seattle section of the Empire Builder. Leaving Portland the consist of train#28 includes a genesis locomotive, a lounge car, 1 coach car, 1 coach baggage car, a sleeper & 1 express car. The locomotive will be joined with another in Spokane from the Seattle section, 2 more sleepers, 2 coaches, the dining car & several more express cars. The Portland sleeper is now still at the end of the train{except for the express cars} & 5 cars away from the dining car. This strange consist happens on several trains that are split up enroute such as the Lake Shore limited with New York & Boston sections, also the Texas Eagle Joining with the Sunset Limited in San Antonio. The reason for the strange consist arrangement is to save time when joining the trains. It also allows coach passengers easier access to the sleepers as they would normally have to go through the dining car to get to the sleepers. Not that I have a problem with that but the sleeper passengers pay a price for their privacy & it's comprimised by the situation on these trains. The sleeper passengers also have a very long trek sometimes 5, 6 or more cars to get to the dining car. We just left Pasco, Wa. about 45 minutes late & after a brief moment off of the train to stretch my legs & smoke a cigarette it's to my room hopefully for another good nights sleep. Just a brief comment about smoking on the train, there's no smoking anywhere on the Coast Starlight or the Portland section of the Empire Builder. Once we join with the Seattle section in Spokane we have access to a coach car that has a smoking lounge in the lower level. This room is equipped with exhaust fans that vent directly to the outside & therefore the impact on non-smokers is minimized. Until several years ago smoking was allowed in the lounge car which meant everyone in the lounge car smoked whether they wanted to on not. I think this is a much better plan. Smoking is never allowed in the sleepers, coaches or dining cars. On some single level overnight trains on the east coast smoking is still allowed in the lounge car during brief periods during the day & from late at night till early in the AM. Well I slept great again last night except I awoke briefly in Spokane because the train was too quiet as we were just sitting in the station. The rhythm of the rails can put many to sleep & when stopped for any length of time I usually wake up. I awoke about 6AM & could smell the coffee brewing upstairs in the sleeper. The attendant usually has the coffee going before 6AM for the early risers & I'm usually one of the first to grab a cup. Amtrak also provides juice, sodas, bottled water & on most trains this trip fresh fruit in the sleeping cars. this was definitely something new & a very nice touch. I was also very aware of a very marked improvement in the level of service provided by almost all of the employees I encountered on this trip. This continues an improvement I have noticed on my last few trips. I hope this trend continues as the service several years ago left a lot to be desired. My thanks to all of those dedicated Amtrak employees who are striving to do the best they can with the help of some new amenities from Amtrak, keep up the good work. After my first cup of coffee I head to the shower, this not being one of the newer Superliner cars I'm a little apprehensive, no cause for concern as it seems Amtrak has upgraded some of the older cars. When Amtrak first put showers in the sleepers the water pressure was variable & temperature hard to adjust. Shower & shave, then off to the diner for breakfast. No steak for breakfast on this train but the standard fare of eggs as you like them, bacon, sausage, toast, biscuits & gravy, hash browns, pancakes & hot or cold cereal. Really fine food at a fair price & the view is everchanging as we are now going through the best scenery on this route, Glacier Park. We travel along the southern edge of the park for quite some time & the scenery is spectacular. On my first group rail tour I put together in 1998, this was the favorite scenic highlight for many of my passengers, the other being the route of the Cardinal through West Virginia & Kentucky. We're now passing the Izaac Walton Inn in Essex Montana, a great place to do some train watching for you railfans out there. A nice place to stay within a few hundred feet of the tracks. If you're thinking of getting off here remember it's one of the few whistle stops left in the Amtrak system & you must notify the conductor if you want to detrain here otherwise the train just glides on by. today no one on or off here so it's right on by the station. I must say we are doing quite well as we are back on schedule, Hi-Ball #8 departing Browning, next stop Cut Bank Montana. Just a little about the service stops on the train, stops where the train operating crew{engineers&conductors}are changed. The service crew such as attendants in the coach cars & sleepers stay aboard for the whole trip as do the dining car crew. at the service stops the train is fueled, trash taken off, supplies loaded & water tanks filled. the stops are usually 15-30 minutes but be careful if the train is late some time could be made up here so stay close to the train as it will leave as soon as possible. At about 9AM they were showing cartoons in the lounge car for the kids, at night after dinner they show movies. They show relatively new releases usually before they are released on video. they usualy have 2 or 3 movies that they show during the trip. We are just arriving into Cut Bank Montana on time. I clocked the train between milepost 1107 & 1103 in just 3 minutes that equates to 80 MPH. A pretty good clip although it doesn't seem like anywhere near that fast. As we travel through the wide open spaces of eastern Montana I'd like to say a little about the lounge car. This car is available to all passengers on the train & serves a variety of hot & cold sandwiches, snacks, non-alcoholic & alcoholic beverages, souvenirs & other sundry items. This car is generally open from 6AM till at least 11PM with the exception of meal breaks for the attendant. We're now departing Shelby Montana, on time & if we keep this up we may just arrive into Chicago on time or close. My last trip in October 1999 it seemed like anytime we went through Chicago we were anywhere from 3-4 hours late. this caused problems with connections & rather unpleasant situations. I sure hope this will not be the case on this trip. After spending some time on my journal it's off to the dining car for lunch. Today in addition to the standard fare of burgers, chicken breast on a bed of lettuce, hotdogs or grilled cheese for the little engineers, they had a hot open faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes & gravy. for dessert turtle ice cream pie, cheese cake or chocolate cake. We've got a break in the scenery as we pass through the rather desolate big-sky country of eastern Montana. This would be a good time to mention the Metropolitan lounge located in Union Station in Chicago. This lounge is open to all first class passengers arriving or departing from the station. first class includes sleeper, club & business class passengers. Even if you depart in coach class as long as you arrived in first class service you are allowed to await your departure in the Metropolitan lounge. These first class lounges have easy chairs & couches, hot & cold beverages, snacks at various times during the day for example donuts or muffins, a good supply of magazines & newspapers & also very well maintained rest rooms. The rest room facilities available to the general public can at times be rather unpleasant especially right before scheduled cleaning times. these lounges provide a rather nice place to spend the time waiting for your next train & are a rather nice perk foe first class passengers. There are Metropolitan Lounges also in New York, Wash. D.C., Philadelphia & Portland. Separate first class waiting areas with some of the amenities are also located in Miami & New Orleans. The nicest Metropolitan Lounge is located in Wash., D.C. They also have a computer where you can access the internet for those of you wanting to check or send E-mail. I understand that service is also available in New york City. We're just arriving into Havre Montana a little ahead of schedule so we'll have almost 40 minutes before we leave. A good chance to stretch your legs & for you steam engine buffs a really well preserved example of a Great Northern S-2 locomotive. A few words now about meal service in the dining car, one of my favorite places to eat anywhere. Meal service for breakfast is first come first served until the car is full then a wait list is started & as space opens you are called into the dining car. Breakfast is usually from 6:30AM till about 9:30 & if you get to the car before 7AM you can usually get a seat right away. At 7AM the call over the PA that meal service in the dining car is open & the car fills up rather quickly. No announcements are made over the PA after 10PM or before 7AM to allow passenger to sleep. Lunch service is from about 11AM till about 2PM again no reservations until the car is full then a wait list is started. If there is a larger than normal demand for service in the dining car it will remain open until all passengers wanting to eat are served. Dinner is by reservation only & someone will come through the train after lunch to take your reservations. The seatings run from about 4:30 till about 9PM. The crewmember taking reservations will go through the sleepers first then the coaches & finally the lounge car. The early & late seatings are all that are left by the time they get to the lounge car. If you must eat at a certain time because of your destination or medical reasons make sure someone is at your seat or in the accomodation when they come through taking reservations if you're in the lounge car otherwise you'll get either the very early or very late seatings. Every one that wants dinner will be served eventually though & the car will remain open until everyone is fed. Kepp in mind that many factors can affect the meal service hours & these guidelines are just that, guidelines. Please enquire on the train for more specific meal service information. If you want special meal service for dietary or religious preferences please notify Amtrak Reservations or your travel agent as far in advance as possible, I would recommend at least 72 hours or more. Whiloe I'm on the subject of meal service I would like to mention a very special lady who was the dining car steward on our trip to Chicago, Janet Duncan. She was one of the best Amtrak employees working in any category of service that I met on this trip or any other trip for that matter. She always had a smile, was very pleasant, professional & made the dining experience all the more enjoyable. She should be commended for her dedication to excellent service & be an example to other employees. One more thing before I finish up this first part of my rail adventure about making your reservations. I would recommend using the services of a travel agent familiar with rail travel. That can be no easy task as many travel agents are not at all familiar with train travel. I am one of a very few travel agents dealing primarily with rail travel. Be of good faith there are others out there too. If you can't deal with a travel agent who is familiar with rail travel you would be better off dealing directly with Amtrak at least that's their only job. Dealing with a travel agent unfamiliar with rail travel could be worse. I hope to post the next part of my rail trip as soon as possible. If you enjoy this commentary please let me know & make any suggestions as to how I could improve them. Please feel free to contact me at . Thanks & hope to see you on board the train some day.

Yours
Reggie


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