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Rich Kimmel's 1999 Train Trip
Part 3 - Washington, DC to South Bend, IN
June 27-28, 1999
Capitol Limited

Segment 3 of the 1999 trip: As I was sitting in the Metropolitan Lounge before boarding the Capitol Ltd, I thought I heard some rumblings about possibly having to hold the train to accommodate passengers from some late arriving train, but that scenario never played out. We boarded approximately one half hour prior to departure, and I found my accommodations in Room 2 of the Superliner II sleeper "Texas." I believe I have ridden in this car before. The attendant "J.P." as well as the Chief, David Korsch (? - didn't get the proper spelling of his last name) soon introduced themselves to me, and David made dinner reservations for me at 8:30, my usual time. We departed Washington on time, and remained on time for most of the afternoon. I soon made my way into the Sightseer Lounge, my normal habitat on Superliner trains, and continued my video documentary of the trip. At first the lounge was rather empty, but filled up as the afternoon went on. I was getting thirsty for a beer, and was not quite sure whether AMTRAK sells beer on Sundays in their lounge cars, but I soon saw a couple fellows walk up the stairs from the lower level serving area with beer, so I answered my own question and soon got one myself. The Capitol departed at 4:30, and the first dinner call was at 5:30 (too early for me), and was made by "Anthony," the dining car steward. We departed Rockville, MD, as well as Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg, WV, on time. As I was sitting in the lounge with my video camcorder, a young man was sitting in the double seat next to me with a younger blonde woman. The woman was not talking very much, but the man turned to me once and asked me if I was "checking on" the other passengers with my video, or some such thing, and I told him no. A little later , he saw my map books and asked me about them, but told me that he didn't want to know about them, but "she" wanted to know, meaning the young blonde woman. A little later, the guy was asking me about my train travels, and told me that "she" was also a railfan and liked to travel all over the country. I thought this fellow was rather strange, and if the blonde woman really wanted to talk to me, why didn't she ask me the questions that he was asking? One time, I heard the man mumbling to the woman about something, then he talked louder and said "Well, I don't know if he (meaning me) wants to go the diner with us." Once later the blonde woman told the man to "chill out," and later, the man left, rather upset, and said to me, "you can have my seat if you want. I don't know anything about mileposts," coupled with some other comment that his woman friend wanted to talk to me again. I did not take his seat, but stayed where I was. A few minutes later, the woman also left. I do not know what was going on between the two of them, but the entire situation was rather strange, I felt. Also in the Sightseer Lounge, behind me, was a young kid with some kind of party favor "noisemaker," which he continued to blow on and make noise with for an hour or so. A few minutes of such annoyances I can tolerate, but this went on for quite a while, until the kid left for dinner or for his seat or somewhere. While I was listening to the young man work on the blonde woman and the kid blow his noisemaker, the eastbound Capitol passed, and was apparently a couple hours late. Between Harpers Ferry and Cumberland, as the Capitol follows the Potomac River, I was talking to a couple gentlemen who had been vacationing in the area with their families, and had National Park Service maps of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I spent some time comparing their maps to mine, and, as always, they were impressed with my maps, and recognized several localities through which they had traveled, based on my maps and theirs. A few miles before Cumberland, MD, the Capitol stopped for about 45 minutes, since there was a freight train ahead of us on the same track, and it was not moving. Several announcements were made stating that there was a train ahead of us which was "waiting to get into the Cumberland yards," which, of course, made sense to most of the passengers. I, of course, know better than that, and thought there was more to the story than what was being conveyed by the AMTRAK crew (as there usually is). One of these days, maybe before my next trip, I need to pick up a railroad scanner radio so I can get the "real" story on situations like this, "from the horse's mouth." I asked if there was an engine on the stalled freight train, and was told there was. In fact, the train was not stalled at all, but it was stopped because it had no crew! Apparently, the crew on the train had "gone dead" at the end of their 12-hour shift, and had simply walked away from the train. This happened to me last year also, on the California Zephyr. The railroad unions are very strict in their work hours rules -- no crew may work more than 12 hours on a single shift, for safety purposes. After the 12 hour shift, if the train is not where it's supposed to be, a relief crew must be deployed, and the crew which had finished its shift, "goes dead," and is not allowed to work again until after a suitable rest period. I did not find out that this is what happened in Cumberland until the next morning, when I had a chance to talk to Chief Dave, but I was not surprised. During our 45-minute wait, a relief crew was apparently found for the freight, and it was pulled into the Cumberland yard. The yard itself was far from full, so no freight trains "had to wait" to get into the yard, like the AMTRAK crew told us. This is the first time I've ever heard that explanation from AMTRAK! In most cases, AMTRAK crews are much more honest and straightforward with the passengers now than they were 15 or 20 years ago, but there are still exceptions apparently. After this first delay on the Capitol, I began to wonder if I would make my connection to the International in Hammond, IN, the following morning. I had almost a 2-hour layover in Hammond, and, according to http: //, which I had been checking weekly for the last 3 months or so, the Capitol made that connection most of the time. As stated earlier, I always have a "contingency plan" for late trains if I should miss connections. On this trip, I did not need contingency plans for most of the trains I would be on, but the plan for the Capitol was to get off at South Bend and take a taxicab to Niles, Michigan, to catch the International if I would miss the connection in Hammond. If we did not lose any more time on the Capitol, I would still have plenty of time to make the connection in Hammond, however. The Capitol left Cumberland 43 minutes late, and I soon went to dinner for my 8:30 reservation. I sat with a very nice couple for dinner, and as we were eating, my buddy from the lounge car, who was sitting with the blonde woman, came into the diner and sat across from our table. As the waiter came by, the fellow was asked if he was in coach or sleeper, since sleeper passengers, of course, get complimentary meals, but the young fellow didn't know why he was being asked, and said "What difference does it make? Am I not supposed to be here now if I'm not in sleeper?" or something like that. He told the waiter he was in coach, and the waiter went up to talk to Anthony the steward or somebody, and another discussion concerning whether this guy was in coach or sleeper ensued. "Excuse me," said the young fellow, "Is there some kind of problem here?" The reply from the waiter was "No problem, we just want to know whether you're in the sleeping car." The young fellow said again "What difference does it make? Are the prices different or something?" He was finally told that first class sleeping car passengers get complimentary meals and that they were simply trying to figure out what his accommodations were. He soon ordered his meal, then got up and walked out of the diner. Several minutes passed, and the fellow had not returned to his meal, which had been served to his table. He finally returned, with a different woman this time. This woman did not eat, but had a cup of coffee while the young guy ate. My tablemate was watching the entire situation and commented to me that he thought this young guy was a "con man." As he was staring at the young man, the young man said to my tablemate, "Hey, smile!" My tablemate thought for a minute, then replied to the young man, "I don't smile at a****hole con men!" The young guy did not reply, and I believe he got off the train at Cleveland. I went to bed later , but had a few minutes to step off the train at the Pittsburgh station. We had not lost any more time between Cumberland and Pittsburgh, but somehow we had lost a couple hours overnight. Between Pittsburgh and Chicago, the Capitol travels on Conrail tracks; however, as of June 1, 1999, Norfolk Southern had acquired Conrail, and the transition between the two owners of that line was far from smooth! There are numerous articles about this merger and its problems in recent issues of "Trains" and other railfan magazines. I had awaken near Sandusky, Ohio, where we had been delayed about an hour, to the best of my recollection. We soon were moving again, got about 5 miles, and were then delayed yet another hour, so we were now about 2 hours late, and it was time to consider deploying "Contingency Plan no. 1" and getting off at South Bend. In discussions with some people in the lounge car in the morning, the Capitol was expected to arrive in Chicago about noon. As we continued across Ohio, there were Conrail and NS freights on nearly every siding, and we continued to get later and later. By doing some calculations, I figured that the Capitol could be up to 4 hours late into South Bend, and I would still be able to take a taxicab to Niles, Michigan, 10 miles north of South bend, and make the connection to the International. I then realized that, since Indiana does not observe daylight savings time, they were on Chicago time, and Michigan was thus 1 hour ahead of Indiana, and not the same as Indiana time. Therefore, the Capitol could not be more than 3 hours late for me to make the connection, and it was rapidly approaching the 3-hour late point. Approximately 20 years ago, AMTRAK trains on Conrail were traditionally 4 or 5 hours late in the Midwest; however, since that time, Conrail had gotten its act together, and had good contracts with AMTRAK, so for many years, trains on Conrail consistently ran much closer to schedule -- until this year. I thought I was back in the 1970's after seeing the congested NS/Conrail freight line over which we were traveling. Maybe I should have taken the Three Rivers from New York to Chicago, which runs on CSX through Indiana and Ohio. I knew Niles was fairly close to South Bend, but I wanted to allow myself an hour to make the connection, since it was unknown at this point how hard it would be to get a taxi willing to take me there. I mentioned my situation to the conductor, and he told me he would take care of getting me a taxicab in South Bend. Since when do conductors, rather than the Chief of On-Board Services, make those arrangements? I talked to the Chief in Toledo, and he told me there would be "no problem" -- just tell the South Bend agent that I needed a taxi to Niles to catch the International -- as if such arrangements were commonly made from this train...????? We arrived in Toledo 2 hours 54 minutes late, but only left 2 hours 46 minutes late, since we did not make the full service stop. I had a chance to talk to the Chief in Toledo, and he assured me again that there'd be no problem getting a taxi from South Bend to Niles. The next stop was Waterloo, Indiana, where there is a crew change as well as a passenger stop. I had been continuing my video all morning, hoping that I would make this "taxicab connection" okay. As the departing crew got off in Waterloo, the conductor gave me the assurance that now I may not make the connection in Niles, since we were continuing to lose time, and there were a lot more freights ahead. Thanks a lot! Just what I needed!!! I tried to not believe him, but was not too sure myself. We departed Waterloo 2 hours 44 minutes late, and continued west. Passing through Goshen, Indiana, we encountered yet more freight delays, with freights on nearly every siding and crossing. We departed Elkhart exactly 3 hours late -- my timeframes were getting critical now. All I could do was hope that it would not take a whole hour to get to Niles from South Bend (it really shouldn't take that long, but you have to allow for traffic, road construction, etc.) Again, the Chief told me there would be a taxicab for me at South Bend if I would ask the agent to get me one, and that AMTRAK would pay for it. The Capitol finally arrived in South Bend, Indiana, exactly 3 hours late. I got my stuff off the train and raced in to the station, since the International would be departing Niles, Michigan, in about one hour. There was no agent around that ticket window, and a couple men at the window told me the agent was out unloading the train. I explained to the two men that I wanted to get a taxicab to take me to Niles to catch another train, and that I was in a hurry, and soon another man approached me. "You need a taxicab?" he said. "Yes, I do -- are you a cab driver?" "Yes, I am," he replied. Apparently he was the driver which AMTRAK had arranged for me! I got into the cab, and the driver had the ticket agent, who was now finished unloading the train, sign a piece of paper which authorized AMTRAK to pay the $6 taxicab fare. The fare was pretty low to take me 10 miles! Back home in Orlando, a similar length taxicab ride would probably cost $25. The Capitol soon left South Bend, and I was soon in the taxicab going to the Niles, Michigan, AMTRAK station. The taxicab ride took about 20 minutes, so I still got to Niles in plenty of time to catch the eastbound International.

Web page by Matthew J. Melzer.

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