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Multiple Route Amtrak Trip
From : Mike Tisdale
Our vacation this year was a trip to New Jersey to visit Anne's family. We took Amtrak to and from Philadelphia, going east via the Zephyr from Roseville to Chicago, Lake Shore Ltd. from Chicago to New York, and, as it turned out, a Keystone train from New York to Philadelphia and returning via the Three Rivers to Chicago and the Zephyr back home. This was the fourth time that Anne and I had made a trip across country on Amtrak to visit her family in the east, and the second time that we had done so since we've had kids. Our daughters are 8 and 4, and have also been on various shorter train trips closer to home.
We left on Friday, 14 July from Roseville. The day before we left, I checked some of our luggage in Sacramento, but when we piled on the train, we realized that we had packed far more stuff than we needed for the trip east. Many of the books and games and clothes that we had with us weren't used, and when we got to Chicago, we checked about 1/2 that stuff on to Philly. But I digress.
A few days before we left, we got a call from Amtrak. It seemed that BNSF was going to be working on a bridge in Iowa on Sunday, 16 July and that day's Zephyr would be re-routed via UP's former C&NW line between Omaha and Chicago. The train was expected to be 3 to 5 hours late getting into Chicago, and Amtrak offered us the option of getting off at Omaha and riding a bus into Chicago for a more punctual arrival. We declined, as we were scheduled to spend the night in a Chicago hotel and the prospect of 8 hours on a bus with our 2 kids was rather grim. Besides, this would be a chance for me to ride some rare mileage. Anne and the girls might not really care if we saw the cornfields along the ex-C&NW rather than the cornfields along the ex-CB&Q, but I'm never averse to adding to my route miles.
The eastbound Zephyr was about 2 hours late into Roseville. It was held at Sacramento because a backhoe had hit a gas line near the track between Sacramento and Roseville and they couldn't proceed until it was safe. I was worried that we might miss a reroute through the Feather River Canyon, but 6 eventually showed up and we piled into the Family Room of car 0631. Our eastbound Zephyr had 2 P-42s, a transistion sleeper, 2 sleepers, diner, lounge and 3 coaches, plus mail cars from and rear. At Denver, a coach, sleeper and mail car were added eastbound.
The trip over Donner marked the 25th year in a row that I've ridden over Donner Pass, at least the portion of the line between Colfax and Truckee. There was nothing unusual about our run, other than being late, and hey, that isn't all that unusual! We didn't have a Stupid Dispatcher Trick like the one on our last trip across the country in 1997 when UP let an eastbound freight out of Roseville just ahead of us and we lost THREE HOURS on a three hour schedule between Roseville and Truckee, only passing the freight on the CTC controlled double track between Shed 10 and Norden.
The diner had shut down before we boarded, so our attendant told us to go to the lounge to get our lunch, which was included in our fare. It was our only meal from the lounge and was typical Amtrak micro munchies.
The steaks that Anne and I had that night were quite good as we raced east across the Nevada desert. We figured that about $100 of our space charge per day went to meals for the 4 of us, which made the cost of our Family Room seem a bit more endurable. In 1997, we had alternated between coach and sleeper on our trip as Anne had been off work for 2 years caring for our kids and we were a bit short of cash. This year, with both of us working, we decided that sleeper all the way was the only way to go, as we are too old and inflexible to sleep well in coach seats. Although our fare wasn't cheap, I happened to see an ad in a Philadelphia newspaper advertising 1st class air fares between Philly and San Francisco and realized that 1st class travel on a plane for the 4 of us would have set us back 2 to 3 times what Amtrak charged us.
The diner crew on #6, in fact, all of the on board service crews, with perhaps one exception, were good to excellent. The stewards on 6 and the Lake Shore seemed a bit gruff, not nasty, but not the most charming folks around, conversely, the waiters and waitresses consistently got our orders right, served the food promptly and one grandfatherly waiter on #6 fawned over our kids (and other kids) calling them "grasshopper" and making them feel special. I know that this shouldn't be remarkable, but in light of some diner crews that we've encountered, it showed marked improvement. The only crewmember that really seemed to be in need of a career change was the lounge attendant on #5; I overheard another passenger in the diner say that she seemed to have monkeys flying around her!
On Saturday, we slept through the Salt Lake City stop and I think that I awoke somewhere near Soldier Summit, anyway, by the time I got the curtains open, we were winding down the east side of Soldier towards Helper. I felt a bit off all day and snoozed a fair bit, missing much of the Rockies. We did enjoy the descent from the Moffat Tunnel into Denver, during which we passed several freights. We got into Denver, first dropping the rear mail cars, then coupling to the aforementioned coach, sleeper and mail car, and eventually picking up the rest of the mail cars. We went into the station for part of this time and picked up some more stuff (as if we were piled to the ceiling already!) in the station gift shop. It seemed to me that the crew was taking its own sweet time about getting out of town, and then the rumor came down the train that there was a derailment and that we would be spending the night in Denver. The original estimate was that we would get out about noon Sunday, in the event, we got out about 0800, but in the meantime, the Chief of On Board Services, came through and offered everyone the option of being flown or bussed to their destination and I believe that coach passengers were offered vouchers for the night in a hotel. All passengers who were going to be affected by the C&NW re-route were given vouchers for $25 on their next Amtrak trip. I called our Chicago hotel from Denver station and told them to cancel our reservations and we wouldn't be needing them. Since we were planning to spend the night in Chicago and catch Monday evening's Lake Shore, we had plenty of time to make our connection.
We had passed the Ski Train in the siding at Fraser and it arrived while we were in the station. In the morning before we left, I went out and got some shots of it. The outside disk brakes on the Tempo cars are unusual and give them a white wall tire look. The Ski Train looks sharp and it is nice to see the Rio Grande GP-60s leading it. If you didn't know that its power car used to be a PB unit, you would be hard pressed to identify it as such these days, with the EMD trucks and modifications to the car body.
We pulled out about 12 hours late Sunday morning. A lot of people had decided to fly, so the train was relatively empty, in fact the Denver coach had maybe 2 people in it. One story we heard was that Amtrak had contacted Union Pacific and asked to re-route the Zephyr over their line to bypass the wreck but that UP had refused. Interesting, if true. Here UP has a 3 track mainline across Nebraska, but they couldn't accomodate one Amtrak train? An Amtrak train that was already scheduled to be detoured over their line between Omaha and Chicago?
I reflected that in December 1982, I had taken 6 to Denver, realized that the city was shut down due to bad weather and that the Oxford Hotel where I'd planned to stay was closed and in the process of being turned from a flophouse into a luxury hotel AND that #5 was running 12 hours late due to the weather and would be in as soon as 6 left. I got on 5 that night and was treated the next day to a trip by daylight across the Salt Lake fill, up the Pequops, and through Pallisade Canyon, before seeing Donner Lake by the light of a full moon reflected off the snow. Now, we going the other way 12 hours late!
We watched the treeless high plains of eastern Colorado turn into cornfields of Nebraska, met #5, with me holding the video camera out the vestibule window as we sat in a siding, and then at Arapahoe, Nebraska, seeing the remains of the derailment that had delayed us. We got into Omaha in late afternoon and the diner crew went to a nearby restaurant and brought back food for dinner. We sat in Omaha for about 2 hours and tried to get the kids to run around in the heat and humidity, not entirely sucessfully. They were getting a bit wild from being on the train for 2 days, but the weather wasn't conducive to exercise.
As the BNSF bridge project would be finished before we got there, the C&NW re-route was called off *rats* but at least we saw some parts of the route that we would have normally passed through by night.
Eventually we left the Omaha station, but stopped again before we crossed the Missouri River bridge. About the time we got going again, we called it a night and went to bed. Our ETA into Chicago was 0630 and at Naperville the next morning we got a wakeup call from our attendant.
I really felt for our Chief as she tried to keep us up to date with news that nobody wanted to hear. She did make announcements and made arrangements for people to get home or make their connections, but as Amtrak's face on a problem that wasn't Amtrak's doing, she seemed to get some grief from some passengers. I overheard people complaining that they hadn't been informed about what was going on, yet we had heard announcements in our sleeper space describing the latest information that the crew had. If that changes from hour to hour, well, a derailment is an emergency and the status of an emergency does change as it progresses.
Well, at 0630 or so, we packed our pile of baggage onto our cart and staggered into the Metropolitan Lounge to sort through our stuff and send most of it ahead to Philly. By the time we got done with that, and leaving the rest in the baggage storage room of the Met Lounge, it was time to start hiking over to the Field Museum, where the kids (and us) wanted to see Sue, the T. rex. We ate breakfast along the way, and once we got to Grant Park, the kids had a great time running around. It is a 2 mile walk from Chicago Union Staion to the Field Museum. We learned a little trick at the Field, which we exploited at the Shedd Aquarium which we visited on the way back. We had a stroller along for our 4 year old and with that we used the wheelchair and stroller entrance, where the line was a lot shorter than the regular entrances. Our membership in the Sacramento history and science museum was also good for free admission to the Field, a nice surprise. Sue was impressive, but so were a lot of other displays. In the ancient Egypt section I couldn't resist asking Anne if she knew why we know that King Oedipus was Egyptian. "Because he loved his mummy."
We caught buses back to Union Station, where we found the Met Lounge a lot more crowded than it had been in the morning. Eventually the Lake Shore was called and we hiked up the platform past the Boston section to our sleeper at the front of the New York section. The Lake Shore had 2 P-42s, private car New York Central 3 (with the observation end to the engines), baggage, ex-10-6 crew dorm, 2 Viewliner sleepers, Heritage diner, Amfleet 2 lounge, 5 Amfleet 2 coaches, (3 for New York, 2 for Boston, Boston Viewliner Sleeper and baggage. We were in Deluxe Bedroom B of the "Sea View". After getting our bags stashed in the room, I asked the attendant if, with a name like "Sea View" we could expect to be attacked by a giant octopus. He laughed, and admitted to remembering "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea".
This was our first time in a Viewliner, and we liked it. The kids liked the little LCD TV that played 2 different programs, and it was nice to have high ceilings after the rather low one that our Superliner room had. I know that you can't have a high ceiling with a double deck car, and I'm not faulting the Superliners, but the high ceilings and upper windows on the Viewliners are very nice.
We added a bunch of mail cars, including RoadRailers, to the end of the train after leaving Union Station and were soon heading east along the Water Level Route. This was our first time on the Lake Shore and our first time on the old NYC east of Cleveland. I like the fact that Amtrak is trying to differentiate their trains with menus for the specific train and different golf shirts for the crews.
The Lake Shore's menu choices were different than those on the Zephyr. I expected the lounge to be smokey, but one end of the Lake Shore's lounge has a completely enclosed glassed in smoking area and the ventilation system in this is strong enough to keep the smell of smoke out of the rest of the car, good!
The steward on the Lake Shore was a bit brisk in telling us that our Deluxe Bedroom only allowed us 3 meals in the diner, but as the Lake Shore didn't have a separate kid's meal like the Zephyr does, we just split 1 meal for both girls for dinner and breakfast and then she wound up not charging us for the 4th lunch when they each wanted something diffrent at lunch time. Anne and the girls felt that their steaks would have been better without the sauce that they came in, but in the morning the French Toast was very good. The waiters and waitresses more than made up for their boss's lack of charm with quick and friendly service. Our sleeper attendant had Lake Shore activity books and crayons for the girls, which we gratefully accepted. Our first stop after we awakened in the morning was Rochester, where we were about an hour late, but schedule padding put us into New York only 12 minutes late. We got off at Albany to watch the switching, then were very impressed by the beauty of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills across the river as we headed south to New York. I told the girls about this being Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle country. I got some shots of the MTA's FL-9s and other equipment at Croton-Harmon and before we knew it, we were at Penn Station.
Our hotel in New York was the Hotel Pennsylvania, just across the street from the station and the prospect of a stationary bed after 4 nights in a row on the trains seemed pretty good, even to the family's rail nut!
There was a bit of excitement outside our hotel. A chunk of the building across the way had fallen off, hitting a passerby and the police and fire department had the streets cordoned off. People were looking up at the building. I thought that if Weegee were still alive, he could have gotten some good shots of people staring up at the building, they looked just like the people in some of his group shots.
The girls wanted to go to the top of the Empire State Building, so that was our tourist thing to do in New York. We went at dusk and the lines were short as most people were at dinner. The sun was setting over New Jersey and as we watched, more and more lights came on. Anne can't stand heights, so she stayed in the lobby.
The next day we got up, ate breakfast at a very good coffee shop on the ground floor of the Empire State Building, then checked out and headed to Penn Station. The next train to Philadelphia was the noon Metroliner, on which our tickets were no good (unreserved coach), but 15 minutes after that was a Keystone train to Harrisburg, with a reversal at 30th St. We caught that and found plenty of room in the first coach of the 3 car train. The herd instinct sent most people into the doors nearest the escalator, so we went to the door without the line! Our AEM-7 made quick work of our 3 coaches, getting us to 30th St. on time.
We spent the next week visiting Anne's family. Anne's father turned 80 this year and this was a big family reunion to celebrate with people coming from California, Florida, Virginia and Washington to join the folks who had stayed closer to home. We had hoped to maybe get into Philly to see some of the sights, but in the end, our whole time was spent with relatives. The kids vegged out on Cartoon Network at the hotel; we don't have cable TV at home some something that mindless was a rare treat for them!
During our time in New Jersey, the only train we saw was the Mt. Holly-Camden local, and that was in a driving rain when we were late getting someplace, AND I didn't have a camera along anyway.
After a week, we drove back over the Betsy Ross bridge to 30th St., turned in the rental car, checked over 1/2 of our impedimentia, left the rest in the Met Lounge and got some lunch. It was pouring, so I wasn't even up to going outside to see if there were any angles to try of trains arriving and departing or shots of the yard.
The Three Rivers was called and we rode the elevator down to the platform. We hiked to our sleeper, which turned out to be "Beech Grove", a car built by Budd for SP's 1950 Sunset. I pointed out to the kids that this car had been built for service on the same train as the lounge and diner that the CSRM uses on the Santa trains. Like nearly all SP streamlined cars, this sleeper did not originally have a name, "Beech Grove" was added by Amtrak. Bedrooms E and F were set up en suite for us and we settled in. I got some video of the Acela cars and engine in the coach yard as we left, then we turned left at Zoo Interlocking and headed west. Our attendant on the Three Rivers was the best of the trip, advising us that the Amdinette had some entrees that weren't listed on the menu (Anne and I tried the salmon, which was passable for microwave food) bringing an apple and cookie basket at bed time and going out of her way to make us feel welcome and at home. She only worked as far as Pittsburgh, but the fellow who was on in the morning and brought us wake up coffee, milk and light breakfast food at 0730 (it reminded me of British Rail's morning tea and ginger snaps on sleepers at Kings Cross in 1980) also was polite and helpful.
The 10-6 on the Three Rivers was a sentimental journey for me. The only time that I was a guest of the Pullman Company was on the CZ in 1968 when my parents and I had 2 bedrooms en suite between Sacramento and Chicago. I've ridden in roomettes since that trip, but this was the first time I'd ridden in a Pullman bedroom since that trip. Allowing for the Amtrak colors and fabrics, the bedrooms were much as I'd remembered them, with the fold up sinks in the bathrooms, and knobs and switches for fans and lights.
The Three Rivers was pulled by a P-42 and F-40 duo, so, unlike our 1997 trip, we did have an EMD diesel pull us on one portion of our trip. I reflected in 1997 that I'd never been on another train trip without EMD diesel power, even in India, Europe and Korea, I'd ridden behind EMD export or licensed diesels. I have no idea how many mail cars and RoadRailers we had on the end of our train, but behind the power, there were 4 MHCs and a baggage car, then the sleeper, the Amdinette (Amfleet 1) and 3 Amfleet 2 coaches. The coaches were were packed.
The afternoon drifted to evening as we passed through Pennsylvania Dutch country, saw the GG-1 and PRR caboose under the trainshed at Harrisburg, crossed the Susquehana on the Rockville Bridge and followed the Juniata through its valleys and narrows, marvelling at how lush and green everything is. At Altoona, the dead lines featured a lot of old CR power and most of BN's cabless B-30-7As. The crew pointed out Horseshoe Curve in the fading light and we all squatted at the aisle side window to watch our train spread around the curve. I didn't want to annoy our excellant attendant by trying to sneak by her into the vestibule, so the video I got out the window looks like it was shot out the window, oh, well, I have shots of the Broadway out the vestibule going around the curve. I stayed up until Pittsburgh and took a walk on the platform there before retiring.
In the morning the HEP cut off. The train stopped in a cornfield and eventually started up again, shortly thereafter the lights and blowers came back on. When we got to Chicago, I noticed that the F-40 was idling, whereas it seemed to have been providing HEP at Pittsburgh the night before. We were maybe 20 minutes late into Chicago, where we headed in rather than wying after dropping our rear mail cars. We dropped the bags in the Met Lounge, and as the girls wanted to see the Shedd Aquarium, we caught buses over to it. The Beluga Whales were off display as they had a new baby whale, but the Amazon Rainforest exhibit, jellyfish and dolphins more than kept the kids interested until it was time to head back to Union Station. While we were in the aquarium, the weather had turned wet, but we were pretty well able to dodge puddles getting to the bus.
I did manage to get out to the platforms and shoot some video of Metra trains and an Amtrak train with 2 P-32s, an Amcafe, 3 Horizon coaches and several MHCs and RoadRailers on the end. I'm guessing it might have been the State House for St. Louis and RoadRailers and boxcars are something of a contrast with the red and maroon observation cars that the GM&O used to put on the end of their St. Louis trains.
#5 had its through coaches on the front and sleepers on the rear, so we didn't have quite as far to walk. Our car was the "Iowa", appropriate for the Zephyr, Amtrak's only train that spends much time in the state. Confusingly, on the Superliner 2 sleepers, the Family Room is room F, whereas it is room 15 on the SL 1 cars. F for Family makes sense, but room 15 is at the end of the hall with rooms 11-14, so that makes sense, too.
We left a few minutes late as people were still heading up the platform at departure time. It turned out that another couple by the name of Tisdale were in a room next to us. I guess that most North American Tisdales might trace their ancestry to a John Tisdale who came over from Ripon, Yorkshire early in the 17th century, the name is a corruption of Teesdale from the Tees River. These distant relatives were travelling with two of their teen daughters who were in a room in another car, something that we expressed jealousy of when our two girls were getting a bit of train cabin fever.
Somewhere west of Aurora, we met the eastbound Chief (I guess from all the mail cars on the end). While we were in the diner (early seating, another good steak), we stopped and stayed stopped for the better part of an hour. A BNSF freight was broken down ahead of us according to the announcement made by the crew, and after we got going again, we passed a WB freight on the other track.
A tour group was abord, with 26 people in sleeper rooms going to Reno, and there were also several people on board heading for the National Model Railroad Association convention in San Jose. The Denver coach had a fair number of Boy Scouts heading for Philmont Ranch. I'm not quite sure why the Scouts were on the Zephyr as Philmont is closer to the Chief's run, perhaps they were doing something in Colorado before heading to New Mexico or the Chief was sold out.
I went to the lounge to get some late night drinks and snacks and found the movie blaring. The attendant said she couldn't get it to turn down and also was yelling at the Scouts who were occupying much of the car to settle down. This was the "Wicked Witch of the West" bar tender and the only crew member on the whole trip whom I felt really should have been in a line of work that did not put her in contact with the general public, but I would have been driven nuts by that movie being so loud, so maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge her.
We awoke a bit east of Ft. Collins with the train about 2 hours late. At Denver, we said good bye to the other Tisdales and the girls got each got 49 cent toys for $5 at the gift shop. I did stick the video camera, if not my nose out the window as we wound around the Big 10 curve. I think that we met 5 eastbound coal trains between Denver and Bond, each with 2 units on the point, a single unit mid train and two on the rear. Most, if not all, were lead by an SP AC4400, and one had a CSX unit in the consist.
I was feeling a lot better than the day we went east through the Rockies and enjoyed the trip through the canyons of the Colorado. The Chief pointed out that the crews call it "Moon River" and there certainly were enough people with their pants down to justify the moniker. The Rockies are always a highlight of a trip on the Zephyr and after numerous trips on the Rio Grande (via the old CZ, the RGZ, and Amtrak's CZ), I still find new and well remembered things outside the windows each trip.
The kids were not much interested in hanging out in the lounge this trip, which might have contributed to their cabin fever in the sleeper room. It also seemed that the weather was warm to hot on our servicing stops, so it was rather hard to persuade them to run around outside and burn energy while the diner was watered and the engines fueled. I'm reading the new Harry Potter book to our older girl, but it is above the interest level for the the younger one, who wanted to play games or hear books more her speed. This, too, could cause some conflicts, but all in all, they held together well.
The Zephyr's dinner menu is different for the first and second nights, with prime rib replacing steak and trout replacing salmon for "Dinner in the Rockies". I like getting the trout in the Rockies as it was always a specialty and our last dinner on the train didn't disappoint.
Today's CZ schedule puts the train through Salt Lake City too early or too late to take advantage of a platform stroll unless you are up later or earlier than we were this trip. In 1997, the stupid dispatcher trick that had our train 3 hours late eastbound, plus the fact that we were riding coach the first night, got us up in time for a walk at SLC, but this trip we slept through the City of the Saints both ways and also missed Soldier Summit.
Morning found us east of Elko when I awoke. There were several trains in the Elko yard, which I just dumbly watched from the vestibule window as the cameras were in the room. I got some shots in Pallisade Canyon, including the site of the old station of Pallisade, where the narrow gauge Eureka and Pallisade took off for south for the mining town of Eureka. I also tried to get a bit of video of the train crossing the bridge at Harney, this bridge being the one that replaced the one knocked down in the 1939 wreck of the "City of San Francisco".
It was hot at Sparks and once again the girls were reluctant to hike up and down the platform. After Reno, I was expecting to hear the announcements from the CSRM docents that ride between Reno and Sacramento, but instead, the Chief got on the PA apologizing for the lack of a docent today. As I've been doing this since the program started in 1986, I tracked down the Chief and offered to step in. He agreed and asked our sleeper attendant to open the PA system door in our car for me. I had to ad lib a bit as I didn't have a script, but I've read those announcements often enough that I was probably closer to our script than the Duke and Dauphin in "Huckleberry Finn" were to Shakespeare.
The NMRA convention goers were concerned about making their connection in Sacramento to the Capitol train that was to forward them on to San Jose. I reassured them that if they missed the train that was due out at 1745, there was another one a couple hours later and the worse that would happen would be that they'd have to ride a bus from Oakland to San Jose.
We did make up some time due to the schedule padding and it is probable that the Zephyr got into Sacramento in plenty of time for them to make there connection. We got off in Roseville about an hour late, stepping back into 100+ degree weather and watching the RoadRailers on the end of our train disappear around the curve by the engine house. The girls were invited to a swim party that night, which turned out to be the best thing for them after 3 days on trains.
Let's see, in two years, my mother-in-law turns 80, maybe we better start planning our next trip!
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