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Jeremy Abbott's Amtrak and VIA Train Trip
With the North American Rail Pass
http://www.trainweb.com/travelogues/multiple/2001b06a.html

Day 1---

Around 10pm on Feb. 6, I called the Salt Lake Station, and was informed that #5 would arrive around 11:30pm (1 hr. early). One of my friends had offered to give me a ride, so I told him we would leave around 11pm. It is usually 5-10 min. drive to the station, but it had been snowing very heavily for about 4 hours, and thew roads were a mess. We got to the station about 11:20pm, in plenty of time to see #5 roll in at 11:30. Upon its arrival I headed up the platform to the open coach. The coach attendant allowed my friends to get on the train with me, since we would be in Salt Lake for almost 2 hours. I showed my friends the coaches, smoking room, lounge car and dining car. They were both very impressed, and their jealousy skyrocketed. After I bid my friends farewell, I reboarded the train and got setteled in. We started rolling at 1:35am on Wednesday Feb. 7, 25 min. late. I don't know why we departed 25 min. late, especially since the train arrived 1 h. EARLY. Sleep overcame me within 5 minutes of our departure.

I woke up around 8:30am and made my way to the Diner for Breakfast. Most of my meals on board would be from the Lounge, but since it was the first morning of my journey, the Diner seemed more fitting. Bad morning in the Diner. The food tasted good, but the service could have been much better, and the food more fresh. In spite of its good taste, the sausage was lukewarm, and the biscuits were dry, in spite of the gravy. We arrived into Sparks, Nevada about 25 min. early. Sparks being a service stop we were allowed to step off of the train. Not many people got off of the train for very long because it was bitter cold in Sparks. In spite of the Snow in Salt Lake at Midnight, it was much warmer there than in Sparks at 9:30am, where it was sunny. Of interesting note, there was an Amtrak train parked in the Sparks yard. Its consist was 2 F40's, 1 Dinette, 4 single level Heritage cars, 2 UP private cars in the middle, a full length dome car, and 4 more single level coaches. It was odd to see the 2 UP private cars in the middle of an otherwise Amtrak consist. Nobody on board the Zephyr knew why that train was there. We departed Sparks at 10:15, and were quickly blocking the strip in Reno. About 2 miles after we left the Reno station, the train came to a stop, and we lost power. After about 5 minutes, the Chief came on and informed us we were having mechanical problems. After another 10 minutes, the Chief announced the smoking car would close due to the lack of power, and that the power was lost because the engine had frozen overnight crossing the very cold Nevada desert. We finally got moving again at 1pm, 2 h. 30 min. late. The Sierra Nevada Mountains were as spectacular as usual, and the scenery seemed to calm those who had gotten upset over the delay incurred outside Reno. We finally arrived into Sacramento around 5:45pm, about 1 h. 45 min. late. I went into the station to store my bags while I went to the Downtown Plaza for a while. I found out from the ticket agent that the train in Reno is a fun train that can be chartered from the Bay Area or Sacramento to Reno.

After having dinner in the Downtown Plaza in Sacramento, I spend a few hours in the shops in the Plaza. I then returned to the station to have a seat and read my book while I awaited #14 to arrive. Back at the station I found out that #14 was running about 1 hour late, due to a car which had broken down on the tracks in a very isolated area.

DAY 2---Thurs. Feb. 8

Northbound Coast Starlight #14 arrived into Sacramento at 1am, 1 h. 15 min. late. Upon getting on board, I immedeatly went to sleep. I woke up as were passing through a tunnel. The Conductor was announcing that after we departed the tunnel, we would enter another which would take us into the State of Oregon. He announced that after departing that tunnel we would arrive into Klamath Falls in 20 minutes, running about 1 hour late. Since the Coast Starlight is a non-smoking train, a lot of people were stepping off at Klamath for a cigarette, myself included. In the light I noticed that the train was very close to full, which I found as a suprise, since it was February, which is usually the slowest travel month of the year. The Zephyr had also been almost full. By the time we arrived into Eugene we had lost time again and were back to 1 h. 15 min. late, but the schedule padding helped out, and by the time we arrived into Portland, we were 40 min. late. At Portland, about half of the people on board were getting off. Many of those were making connections to #28, the Empire Builder. Only about 20 got on in Portland, compared with about 100 getting off. From Portland to Seattle, I spent about 1 hour having a political discussion in the lounge car with a young lady who was a Political Science major at the U. of Portland and an older gentlemen with an extremely cynical view of government. It made for an interesting talk, since the young lady was a die hard Republican and Bush supporter, and I am the anti-Bush. Our arrival into Seattle was about 5 min. early. After getting my bag that I checked, I caught a cab to the U. of Washington, where I would be staying at the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter there. They were having a party, so I had very good time that night.

DAY 3---Friday Feb. 9

I woke up about 15 min. later than I planned, thus elimimating my chance to take shower. I called for a cab, and the cab took 20 minutes to get there. I realized it was going to be a close call on catching #760, since it was rush hour. I told the cab driver when the train left, so we were off in a hurry. As I got to the station, I heard them making the last boarding call for the train. I was the last person to get on board before we started rolling. The scenery along the Puget Sound is amazing, and anyone who goes to the pacific northwest should take that train to Vancouver. I think it is just as spectacular as the coastal routes in California. Lots of eagles were along the coast that day. We arrived 20 min. early into Vancouver. After passing through customs, I dropped off my bags in storage, and it was off to get lunch and spend the day in Vancouver. After lunch, I lost $45 (canadian), so the only thing I could do was walk around the city and look at stuff. I headed back to the station at about 4pm, since The Canadian was scheduled to start boarding at 5:10pm.

The Via Rail segment of my trip will be in the next report, followed by the second half of my Amtrak journey, so stay tuned.


Day 3 (Cont. from 1st report)

Boarding for VIA #2, began for coach passengers at 5:10, as scheduled. We departed on-time from Vancouver. From my previous trip on the Canadian, i remembered that smoking was in one end of the lounge/dome car, and could be done at any time. On this trip, I discovered a change in that policy. Smoking is now only allowed from 10am-Noon, 3-5pm, and 8pm-8am. However, one of our attendants informed us smokers that the policy change is a step towards the ultimate elimination of smoking on the Canadian. While I don't want to start a smoking v. non-smoking debate, I find this to be a bad move. After that comment, I was the only smoker out of about 20-25 onboard a very empty Canadian who said that if smoking was banned they would still take the train again. I heard only 1 passenger complain about the smoking, and that was not until right before I got to Toronto, when the dome area had finally began to smell of the smoke. PLEASE DON'T USE MY COMMENTS TO START A SMOKING DEBATE! My trip on the Canadian would be split by a detour on the Hudson Bay to Churchill. Our 5:30pm departure time from Vancouver does not allow for any scenery viewing in the winter as we depart Vancouver, so I took a little nap, and woke up for the 8pm 12-hour smoke-a-thon, and began to make friends. I went to sleep at about 10pm, so I could be up early for the incredible scenery of the Canadian rockies.

Day 4

I woke up at about 8am, Pacific Time, and ten minutes later it was 9:10am, because we had crossed into Mountain Time. We were running right on-time still. The scenery through the Canadian Rockies is among the most incredible scenery I have seen from a train window. I met a Canadian gentlemen in the morning, who is currently living in China, where he works for the British film industry there. We were expected to arrive into Jasper about 15 min. EARLY, and since it is already a long stop for the Canadian, as they service the train and clean its windows here, we planned to go to a pub and get some lunch and a beer. We actually arrived 25 min. EARLY at Jasper, giving us an extra ten minutes. We spent about an hour at the pub eating and drinking. We had just enough time to grab some postcards and head back to the train. As we continued on, I saw a lot of wildlife, including, Elk, Moose, Rams, and even a few Wolves, which are hard to spot in the wild. The incredible scenery continued most of the day, until we dropped into the flatlands of Canada (also known as the great Canadian Kansas), for our arrival into Edmonton. We arrived into Edmonton about 30 min. EARLY. The temperature in Edmonton was a chilly -5 Farenheit. Of course, that was the warmest weather I would see until I arrived into Toronto, over a week later. It was dusk by the time we departed, about 10 min. late, so I returned to the lounge for some food and conversation, and headed to sleep at about 11pm.

Day #5

We were scheduled into Winnipeg at 11:10am, however, when I woke up for breakfast, we were running about 1 hour late, and were still in Saskatchewan. After a good breakfast in the Dining car, I went back to my seat and continued reading my book "Hannibal" which is a sequel to the Silence of the Lambs. We arrived into Winnipeg about 15 minutes late. After our arrival, I checked one of my bags to Churchill, and went out to get something to eat. After lunch I walked around a bit in the bitter cold of Winnipeg (about -15 Farenheit), and looked around in some shops around the downtown area. Not much was open unfortunately, since it was a Sunday morning. I returned to the station because I was not feeling very good, and rested up a bit. Unfortunately, I was coming down with a pretty nasty cold that would limit me for almost a week.

Next report will be Winnipeg-Churchill-Montreal Sorry this report is taking so long, but I have been very busy since my return a few weeks ago.


Here is another piece of my trip report for my North American Rail Pass trip. Sorry for the big delay on getting these out, but my life has been hectic since I returned.

Day #5 (cont.)

As the day progressed I was getting more and more sick. At 8:30pm, they called for boarding of #693, the Northbound Hudson Bay. Only about 15 people boarded in Winnipeg, and only 4 were going further than the The Pas, where we would arrive the next morning. Of those 4, I was the only person destined for Churchill. After my ticket was collected, I went to sleep.

Day #6

I woke up as we were on the outskirts of The Pas. There were only 6 people left in coach, plus the 2 people who had boarded the sleeper in Winnipeg. Four people left the train at The Pas, but there was a large group getting on. It was a junior hockey team heading to Churchill. There was about 30 people in that group, and they had the second coach to themselves. An additional 4 people got on in my coach. For most of the day we were running around 1 hour late. The scenery along this route is very different than any other train I have been on. The further north, the shorter the trees. Also the further north we went, the slower the train went. At times we were averaging about 15 miles per hour, making the Kentucky Cardinal look fast. Later in the day, we had to switch off of the mainline to head to Thompson. We arrived into Thompson about 1 hour late. Departing Thompson we had the heaviest load I saw on the train. Not including the hockey team, we had 25 passengers. We pulled out of Thompson about 20 min. late, and despite the still relatively early hour, I went to sleep, due to my sickness.

DAY 7

We arrived into Churchill 15 min. EARLY, at 8:15am. The temperature outside was around -40 degrees (F). After grabbing my bag that was checked, a gentleman offered me a ride to my hotel. I was staying at the Churchill motel. I got a hot shower once I got into my room, and then took a nap. I woke up around 11:30am, and decided to explore the town a little bit. Within 10 seconds of stepping outside, my breath was freezing to my face. I went to the Arctic Trading Co. as well as the Town Centre, where I grabbed lunch at one of the two restaurants that serve lunch during the winter. Since the food at the restaurants was so expensive, I stopped at a grocery store to get some stuff to eat. I went back to my room out of exhaustion, and watched some TV. There were about 20 channels, 4 of which were from the US. The shows on the Canadian channels were predominatly old shows from the US, such as Alf and WKRP in Cincinnati. I ate some dinner after a few hours of TV, and then took another nap. I woke again around 9pm, in time to view the magnificence of the northern lights. This was the only night they were visible, so I am glad I woke up. After an hour or so, I went back to sleep.

Day 8

Still sick. After having a bit to eat, I walked around town some more, and found the liquor store. I got some rum to make rum and cokes, and headed back to my room needing more rest. It was a good thing I was staying in Churchill the extra time, because I needed the rest. I spent the rest of the day watching TV and reading, with some naps thrown in for good measure.

Day 9

Yep, still sick, but getting better. My last day in Churchill was spent wondering one last time. It is a nice little town, but very cold. This was the warmest day, at a wopping -30 degrees (F). The nights were around -50 degrees. The lady at the motel alowed me to stay until close to the train's departure. I headed to the station around 7:30pm, for a scheduled 8:30pm departure. After boarding the train and having my ticket taken, I went to sleep.

Day 10.

Just a little bit sick. We were running on time today as we arrived into Thompson. I tried to order a Pizza, since it is a long stop, but the Pizza Hut did not deliver until 3pm. The rest of the day was spent reading and napping, not too much exciting.

Day 11

I woke up as were coming into the suburbs of Winnipeg, and we were running right on time. We came into a stop at the station about 10 min. Early. I went and got some breakfast after putting my bags in a locker. I also walked around town a bit, and got back to the station to find out the train was running about 1 hour late. About 45 minutes before the train was to arrive, we found out it was actually running about 1 h. 30 min. late. A few minutes later that became 1 h. 45 min. late. Yet again about 45 minutes before it delayed arrival was supposed to happen, we found out the train had just made it Portage la Prarie, about 1 hour away. So make that 2 hours late, or so we hoped. That day, the 1 hour trip from Portage took 1 h. 15 min. By the time the train arrived it was 2 h. 15 min. late. At least Winnipeg is a long stop, so some time could be made up. Or not. We lost more time at Winnipeg, and finally departed just under 3 hours late. As the day progressed we just got later. By the time I went to sleep we were 4 hours late.

Day 12

Woke up and we were running 5 hours late this morning. Luckily time can be made up, especially since I have only 3 hours from our SCHEDULED arrival before my train departs for Montreal. As the day progressed we actually started making up time (finally). By the time we got to our last stop before Toronto, we were only 3 h. 45 min. late. We made up a little bit more time, and arrived into Toronto right at 11:30pm, 3 hours late, and the scheduled departure for the Enterprise, the overnight train to Montreal. I was among about 15 people making that connection. I luckily found the last open seat in coach, since I hurried over to the train. The others ended up having to sit with other people, although somebody joined me early in the morning. I was very dissapointed with this train from the start. In spite of it being an overnight train, the coach was a short haul coach, NOT made for trying to sleep.

Day 13 ***WORST DAY OF MY TRIP

We arrived into Montreal a few minutes early, but I only got about 1 hour of sleep. Upon arrival I went to the Amtrak desk to attempt to leave on the Adirondack one day early. I ran into a big problem though. The CPR had a train jump the tracks, during a time when they were already doing construction, so the Adirondack was replaced by a bus to Albany. Since they were chartering a bus instead of the train, they would not allow me to change my reservation to leave a day early. She said they reserved the bus for a certain number of people and they could not add any more. I was not happy about this, but I got extremely ticked off when I saw that bus depart half full. The following day I got even more ticked off when I saw that there was a seperate bus for those getting on or off prior to Albany, so the bus would not be filling up later. So, I had to convert more money, and find someplace to spend the night. Luckily there was a youth hostel nearby, so after some breakfast, it was off again. The lady at the Hostel informed me however, that the hostel was on a certain street. It was not on that street, so I spent almost 2 hours wandering trying to find it, with all my bags in tow. By the time I found it, I got to my room and passed out until early that evening. I headed out to get some food and see a little bit of Montreal. It is a beautiful city, full of exceptionally rude people. Luckily, this time, they were not nearly as rude as they were on my previous visit. I headed to bed around 10pm, since I had only gotten 1 hour of sleep the night before, even though I took a 5 hour nap.


Day 14

After waking up, I packed up and headed off for the train station. Once in the station I found out that I would be also having to ride the bus as far as Albany, which was my destination on the Adirondack anyhow. There were quite a few ticked off passengers, and while I was one of them, I did not take it out on anybody. I was especially ticked because I was going to connect to Chicago from Toronto, but chose to go via Montreal and Albany because of the scenery on the route of the Adirondack. I grabbed some breakfast and by then they were ready to board the bus. Everybody got onto one bus, which would make a stop at the first scheduled stop in the US. At that point, any passengers (which there were only 2) that were going to any stop before Albany, would get off and board another bus, which would make all intermediate stops. The bus we boarded in Montreal would then go to Albany non-stop. Our bus got to Albany almost 2 hours ahead of schedule (the other bus was late). I spent my time in Albany getting food and reading, since the station is isolated in a residential neighborhood. Both segment of the Lake Shore arrived into Albany early, but they were having problems because there were too many trains arriving at one time, so we were delayed about 10 minutes in leaving. After grabbing some dinner in the lounge, I read a little bit more and then went to sleep.

Day 15

We arrived into Chicago about 20 min. EARLY. I had about 3 hours to waste before catching the South Shore train to Michigan City, IN where my sister would pick me up. In Union Station there was a notice that the Heartland Flyer was temporarily being replaced by a bus due to trackwork. I did not want to ride any more buses, so I changed my reservation to skip out on going Ft. Worth-Norman-Ft. Worth, and stay an extra day in Chicago, and just switch from Coach to Sleeper at Ft. Worth. So, I got some lunch in the station and looked around the area of Chicago around the station. I have been to Chicago so many times, that sightseeing is rarely done by me anymore when I am there. One interesting note, #8 was listed as running 3 hours late, but then it arrived 1 hour EARLY. The listing it as 3 hours late must have been a mistake, because from Milwaukee-Chicago there is not 4 hours of padding. I went over to the Randolph St. rail station to catch the South Shore. The train was a few minutes late by the time of our arrival in Michigan City, but that's ok, my sister was late too.

Day 16

I spent the day wandering around the quaint Indiana town of La Porte, where my sister lives, nothing exciting, but I did see a few trains.

Day 17

I was dropped off to catch the South Shore around 10am. Once in Chicago, I put my bags in my locker and wandered off to find a bookstore. It was pouring rain, and not very warm, so I decided to stay inside after I got back to the station. The Eagle departed on time, but had lost an hour by the time we got to Springfield. We were still an hour late at St. Louis, and that's where the fun began. We had to back way out of St. Louis to switch tracks due to a freight derailment on the normal route of the Eagle south of Missouri. We lost quite a bit of time in the process.

Day 18

When I woke up, we were about 2 h. 30 min. late arriving into Little Rock. The scenery was not that great through Arkansas and Texas. The train was very full, especially the coach that was to be transferred to the Sunset at San Antonio. When we arrived into Ft. Worth (almost 3 hours late), I was finally able to switch over for my first trip in a sleeper. The room was a Standard, and about the size I expected. My sleeping car attendant was very polite. After getting set in my sleeping accomadations, some of the people sitting near me stopped by and said hello. I went to dinner, which was very delicious. I really like the Vegetarian Lasagne. The service on the Eagle was very good, in spite of our tardiness. We arrived into San Antonio about 2 hours late, but that's okay, because I was sleeping, and when I woke up we were in west Texas and running right on time.

DAY 19

The service for breakfast in the diner on the Sunset Limited left a lot to be desired. The food was decent that morning, but nothing spectacular. The scenery across West Texas was actually pretty nice. It was slightly green, which is more than I can say about it last time I was on the Sunset. Our conductor as far as El Paso was kind to the smokers. We made every stop, including the flag stops, so the smokers could step off and have a cigarette. He did this even though nobody got on or off in Sanderson. Our new conductor at El Paso was not nearly as kind. since all stops between El Paso and Tucson are flag stops, he was going to make us wait until Tucson. Well, some smokers, myself NOT included made a run for the bathrooms after a while. After threatening to start tossing people off the train, one of the attendants convinced him to stop in Lordsburg, NM and allow us to smoke. He did this reluctantly, but we still arrived into Tucson 15 min. EARLY, so it was not catastrophic to the trains timeliness. I went to bed after we left Tucson.

DAY 20

When I woke up we were arriving into Ontario, about 2 hours late. I believe this is because we waited somewhere outside of Ontario, so as not to arrive into Los Angeles 3 hours early. In the end, we arrived into Los Angeles 1 hour early, just after 7am.

After an early arrival into Los Angeles, I went to the Bagel Shop in Union Station to grab some breakfast. I was catching the 8:30am train to San Diego. The Pacific Surfliner train to San Diego began boarding about 15 minutes prior to departure. Right before the general boarding, a school group boarded the train for a day trip to Disneyland. They had an entire coach to themselves, as there were about 75 people in their group. There was some track construction between LA and Fullerton, which resulted in slow orders, and waiting for a northbound Pacific Surfliner to pass. Ultimately, we would lose about 25 minutes, although arrival into San Diego was only about 15 minutes late. The ride along the coast is one of my personal favorites on Amtrak's route. I had not previously visited San Diego, but had taken the train as far as Oceanside before. San Diego is a city well worth a visit. I spent much of my time in a large outdoor/indoor shopping complex about 6 or 7 blocks from the station. The station itself is very large and beautiful architecture. While there were a few passing rain storms, the weather was also very nice. I caught a late afternoon train to Fullerton. In Fullerton, I switched my departure day. I could tell I was coming down with some illness (again), and could not reach the people I was to stay with, so I decided to begin my return to Salt Lake a day early. There were some problems with the computer system, as it kept telling them that my rail pass was expired, although it clearly was not. In the end, they had to use the old hand written tickets, with pictures from the 70's on the front. The ticket agents were very cooperative in the process.

Unfortunately, the nice folks at trainweb were gone by the time of my arrival into Fullerton, so I could not stop in and say hi. The Southwest Chief rolled into Fullerton 10 minutes late, due to the construction mentioned earlier. Once on board, I had a cigarette, and settled into my seat and read my book for the remainder of the evening.

DAY 21

As I woke up we were crossing the great state of Arizona, running about 30 minutes behind schedule. I put in my Eagles CD, and fell back to sleep after a quick breakfast in the Diner. I woke up as we pulled to a stop in Winslow, Arizona. As an odd coincednce, the song playing on my CD was in fact the song in which they sing "...standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona..." As we sped on into the state of New Mexico, we were informed that we would be making up time, and should arrive into Albuquerque about 30 minutes early. Sure enough, right on the dot (according to the clock on the bank in Alb.) we were 30 minutes early. They cleaned the windows, and serviced the train while the passengers enjoyed looking at all the goodies being sold alongside the train. We pulled out of Albuquerque 15 minutes late (I don't know why), and proceeded to lose more time until our arrival in La Junta, CO, 1 hour late. From there we made up time throughout the evening, and overnight hours. In the morning, we arrived into Kansas City on time. My destination on board the Chief was Galesburg, so I still had a little while to go, so I grabbed some breakfast in the Diner and read my book as Missouri and a few miles of Iowa passed by out my window. We arrived into Galesburg about 10 minutes early. I spent my afternoon in Galesburg touring the downtown shopping district, picking up some goodies for myself and my friends at home. Then it was time to grab some dinner and head back to the station to catch the Ca. Zephyr back to Salt Lake. The Zephyr rolled in 15 minutes late, a condition that would only worsen before it got better.

DAY 22

I woke up as we left Ft. Morgan, CO, running about 1 h. 30 minutes late. I had some breakfast as we passed through the Colorado Prarie. We came into the outskirts of Denver fairly quickly, and it looked as though we might make up some time. We didn't. We pulled into Denver 1 h. 45 minutes late, after dropping off a mail car, and picking up a few express cars. I grabbed another book while in the Denver Station, since I had only 5 pages left in the one I was reading. We did get out of Denver a little quicker than scheduled, knocking 15 minutes off of our tardiness. THE MIRACLE BEGINS! We were now at the mercy of the Union Pacific. As we moved into the mountains, we did not take the siding once. We pushed up and over the continental divide, through the Moffat Tunnel and into our next stop of Winter Park-Fraser, CO. In one of Amtrak and UP's most impressive moments, we had managed to make up another half hour (something I have never seen done, going west out of Denver to Win. Park), putting us an hour behind schedule. As we crossed the beautiful rocky mountains of Colorado, we were able to make up another 30 minutes getting into Grand Junction, near the Colorado/Utah border. For those who have not had the opportunity to take the Zephyr across Colorado, much like in Albuquerque, the train station is Grand Junction has a host of people show up with goodies for the train's arrival. Most of the goodies at Grand Junction are food, but its nice to have the opportunity to get fresh fruit, and other foods not available on Amtrak, at this stop. As we left Grand Junction, we were again following right alongside the interstate, but unlike the rest of Colorado, we were flying past the traffic. By the time we arrived into our first stop in Utah (Green River), we were only 15 minutes late, and by Helper, UT (next stop) we were actually about 10 minutes early, and we had to sit and wait for our departure time. I fell asleep as we left Helper, after getting the delicious Vegetarian Lasagna in the Dining Car for dinner. I woke up as we passed through Sandy, Utah, about 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake. We pulled to a stop, bringing my 22 day journey across North America to a close. The time was 12:05AM, Amtrak brought my journey to a pleasant close, 26 minutes early.

Jeremy Abbott
SLC, UT


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