Rich Kimmel's 2002 Train Trip
After I bought my 2 extra video tape cassettes and had lunch at 30th Street Station, I wandered around the station some before retreating to the Acela Lounge to board Train #41. I found myself on the upper level of the station, where I had never wandered before. The upper level of 30th Street Station is where the SEPTA commuter rail service arrives and departs from. I walked up the stairs and watched a couple SEPTA suburban trains pull in and depart, then I continued my tour of the station and walked into a couple more shops before heading back to the Acela Lounge. My suitcases were left behind a couch near the front of the lounge, so I moved them back and set them next to one of the comfortable chairs in the center of the lounge, where I sat for a few minutes. The Philadelphia Acela Lounge, like the others, offers complimentary coffee and soft drinks to its guests, as well as cookies and sweet rolls. While in the lounge, the attendant told me that the crew of the late inbound Silver Meteor had put several passengers off at Philadelphia who had connecting trains in New York for Providence! I don't understand why he would do such a thing -- sure, there are several trains each day from Philadelphia to Providence, but those same trains also stop at New York Penn Station, and the guests could just as well have stayed on the Meteor and caught the same trains to Providence from New York.
From the Philadelphia Acela Lounge, access to the trains is via elevators. There are 3 or 4 elevators in the lounge, and the attendant escorts the passengers to the proper elevator to catch whatever train is boarding at the time. In our case, however, I believe we took elevator no. 3 down to the first level, then had to walk to a different elevator to go the rest of the way to the ground level boarding platforms. We got to the platform a few minutes before Train #41 arrived, and one passenger was escorted to the platform in a wheelchair by a redcap. The Three Rivers soon arrived, led by AEM-7 Unit #603. I did not notice whether there was another power unit on the other end of the train, but I did notice that the passengers in the coaches were facing backwards. I suspected that Train #41 operates "backwards" from New York Penn Station to 30th Street because of the arrangement of the tracks into and out of 30th Street, then pulls out of 30th Street "forward" and takes the westbound main at Zoo Tower. Between Philadelphia and New York, all trains operate on the eastern wye segment at Zoo Tower, which is the AMTRAK Northeast Corridor main line . I didn't do all my homework at 30th Street, so I did not observe whether the AEM-7 was removed and placed at the other end of the train, or if there was a standard Genesis unit at the "outbound" end. In years past, all trains ran under electric power between New York, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg; however, I believe the electric caternary between Philadelphia and Harrisburg has been removed now, and all trains leaving Philadelphia heading west operated under diesel. If anyone has any information, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I boarded into room 2 of the Viewliner sleeper Mountain View, with "Alan" as the attendant. What I did not realize was, that on the Three Rivers, all crews change at Pittsburgh, including the car attendants. On most trains, coach and sleeper attendants travel the entire length of the route, from beginning to end. It is very unusual that the crews on this train change halfway to the destination. I also did not do my homework, and failed to observe which other Viewliner sleeper was in the consist today. The Three Rivers does not have a diner car, but rather an older Amdinette lounge car which serves as a lounge and a food car. First class passengers still get complimentary "box meals" in the Amdinette car. I believe there are 2 whole choices for dinner, a lasagna meal and a vegetarian meal.
As we pulled out of 30th Street Station, an announcement was made that we will have to pull out a little ways, then back into the station again to a different track to pick up some wheelchair-bound passengers who couldn't get to the original boarding platform because one of the elevators wasn't working. Of course, as I mentioned above, one passenger in a wheelchair did board at the original track the train boarded at, so I guess the elevators must have broken sometime since that passenger had boarded. Of course, when we descended from the Acela Lounge to the platform, we did have to change elevators on the first level, so I am not sure what happened exactly. The first time we pulled out of 30th Street, we were just a couple minutes behind schedule, but by the time we pulled out, switched tracks, and backed in again, our final departure was 13 minutes behind schedule.
I sat in the room for the beginning of this leg of the trip, but eventually ended up in the Amdinette Lounge. I was hoping we would have one of the newer Amdinettes, like the one on the Silver Meteor, with wall plugs at the tables, but such was not the case. We had one of the older cars, which had tables (without plugs) on one side of the central serving area, and the "smoking lounge" on the other side. I found one wall plug next to the first table in the smoking lounge portion behind the food service area, however, so when I sat in the lounge, I sat at that seat and was able to use the AC adapter on my camcorder rather than discharge the rechargeable battery packs. As I sat there, we passed the SEPTA Overbrook maintenance facility on our way to Paoli, where we departed 12 minutes late. An announcement was made that, after our Harrisburg stop, every seat in the coaches would be full, so coach passengers were asked to allow other people to sit with single riders, and to clear their stuff off the other seats, and to make sure their destination tag was in place above their seat if they left to go to the lounge car or restroom.
We made a short unscheduled freight stop in Downingtown, then departed Lancaster 10 minutes late, but arrived into Harrisburg on time, after passing the Threemile Island Nuclear Plant, which I got some good video of. On the Three Rivers, for the smokers, there are certain designated "smoking periods" in the Amdinette lounge car. On this day, the smoking periods were 3:30 to 4 PM and 7 to 7:30 PM. I am not a smoker, but smokers don't bother me as much as other people, so I continued to sit in the lounge during the smoking periods. In Harrisburg, I got off the train to walk around for a few minutes, and several express mail cars were added to the consist. I reboarded the train then, and we departed on time. We arrived at the next stop, Lewistown, early, and departed on time, and also departed Huntingdon on time. The Huntingdon AMTRAK station is a very small "Amshack" station, located next to the much larger, now closed-up old station. After the Huntingdon stop, I took my complimentary meal in the lounge car. I chose the lasagna, which was a microwaved "TV dinner" type meal served in a box, along with a microwaved pastry of some kind for dessert. I had a beer with dinner. I ate during the 7 to 7:30 PM "smoking period" in the lounge, so had a lot of company. I continued my video after I finished eating, as we arrived into Altoona early, then I went back to my room for a while. We departed Altoona on time, and I dismounted the AC adapter from my camcorder and connected a rechargeable battery pack so I could take video of Horseshoe Curve, which I did from the vestibule window in the Viewliner sleeper, since my room was on the wrong side of the train to view the Curve, and the room across the hall from me was occupied. As the train entered the Curve, an announcement was made that the 7-7:30 smoking period was over, then, a few minutes later, another announcement stated that we were now at Horseshoe Curve, but by the time that announcement was made, the train had just about left the Curve area.
We departed the Johnstown station on time, and, as I was following the route in my log books and taking video, I found another mistake in my railroad maps, where I had the route following a line on the south side of the Conemaugh River, yet the actual line the train follows is on the north side, so I made a note of that, and that will be another correction I will have to make to my railroad maps. The other thing I wanted to verify concerning the route of the Three Rivers was the approach into Pittsburgh from the west. Several years ago, when the Three Rivers first began using the former B&O route from Chicago, the train followed B&O (CSX) all the way into Pittsburgh along a very winding route via Zelienople, Evans City, Mars, and Glenshaw, which involved crossing the Allegheny River one mile north of the Pittsburgh AMTRAK station, then backing into the station. I asked several people on this trip, including some of the crew, if the trains still follow that route, and they said no. That same routing would force the westbound train to back out of the station, then switch forward to cross the same bridge. Upon our departure from Pittsburgh, I did not notice that we were going in reverse, so apparently I have that segment of the route mapped wrong also. I assume the Three Rivers now takes the southern route from Ellwood City, along the Beaver River, where it connects with the route of the Capitol Ltd at Beaver Falls, and proceeds into Pittsburgh. Again, if anyone knows for sure, I'd like to hear from you at email@example.com.
And Johnstown was the end of the on-time performance of the Three Rivers on this trip. We began traveling quite a bit slower than we had been, and at first I thought it was another typical freight delay; however, we continued at a very slow pace for well over an hour. By the time we had arrived at Latrobe, we were 47 minutes late, and it was approaching 10 PM in the evening. Figuring it was time to investigate, I wandered from my room back to the Amdinette Lounge, where most of the crew was sitting at the tables. I inquired as to why we were going so slow and were delayed, and they told me there were 3 freight trains ahead of us, which were all trying to get into Pitcairn Yard, which is located 15 miles east of Pittsburgh Union Station, and there wasn't enough room on the main line for all the trains. To me, that sounds like a typical "cover-up" story for a situation in which a freight crew had "gone dead," -- that is, they had worked their maximum 12 hours dictated by their union and had to stop work immediately -- no matter where they were or what situation the trains or tracks may be in. Typically, when this happens, AMTRAK finds out sometime after the crews had all left, and the AMTRAK crews typically have to notify a railroad dispatcher, who then activates a relief crew to come and move the trains which may be blocking the main line. I did not find out for sure if this was the actual situation on this night or not. The crew was commenting that several trains were affected by this apparent track blockage, including some other AMTRAK trains (?? -- the only other AMTRAK train which is in the area at this time of day is the westbound Capitol Ltd, which doesn't use the Pitcairn Yard route). I went and got my map books and had someone show me where Pitcairn Yard was. He did, and I sat at one of the tables in the Amdinette just to listen to the conversations which were going on among the crew and on their scanners. In a couple minutes, one of the other crew members said to me "I have to ask you to go back to your sleeping car now, Sir -- I think we're all under a lot of stress up here," or something. Was I bothering these fellows? I hardly think so -- all I was doing was sitting at a table and listening. But I obliged and went back to my room. We departed Greensburg 55 minutes late, but had more delays, and had to wait for quite a while at a couple spots. Our final arrival into Pittsburgh was 2 hrs 50 minutes late! I got out for a while and took some more nighttime video at the station platform. As mentioned earlier, the entire crew changed at Pittsburgh, including the car attendants. We had a new sleeping car attendant, whose name I forgot. After he boarded, he was checking his list and seeing what rooms were occupied. I was one of the few people who were still awake in our car, and he didn't have my name on his list or any record of me occupying Room 2. Apparently, since I didn't board the Three Rivers in New York, as originally intended, my name was taken off the manifest. Alan had mentioned that to me when I boarded in Philadelphia, and he seemed surprised to see me, but I thought he had put my name back on the official "manifest." Apparently he didn't. It's a good thing my room wasn't sold to somebody else during the day, which apparently it could have been. We departed Pittsburgh 2 hours 57 minutes late, and I went to bed for good then.
Apparently we lost even more time overnight. I had waken up at a stop at an industrial city, so I looked at the timetable, figuring we were still 2 or 3 hours behind schedule, and figured the stop was Fostoria, so I got up and got ready for another day of videotaping and sitting in the Amdinette lounge. As I passed through the train, I asked one of the crew whether that last stop was Fostoria, and was told, the last stop was Akron! Looking at my watch and at the timetable, we were now approximately 5 hours late. I did not pursue finding out why or where we had lost the additional 2 hours overnight. As we were crossing northern Ohio, we came to another stop at one point, and an announcement said we would be stopping to meet the eastbound Three Rivers, Train #40, to take on some additional food from that train. Doing some calculations, I determined that the eastbound train was approximately 2 hours late to our 5 hours late.
We departed Fostoria 5 hours 11 minutes late. As we departed, we had to pass one or two additional freight trains, so departed town very slowly. I had planned on spending a few hours in Chicago at the Field Museum of Natural History (http://www.fmnh.org/) between the Three Rivers and the Texas Eagle, but knew now that I would not have time for that trip. The Field Museum has long been one of my favorite places, and, as a young child living in the Chicago area, I made my father spend several of his Saturdays taking me to the Field Museum! I used to collect butterflies, rocks, seashells, etc., and even had my own "museum" in the basement of my house, which was "designed after the Field Museum."
Shortly after entering Indiana, we were again delayed in Garrett at the Garrett Terminal Headquarters of the CSX Chicago Division. After a delay, we began to move, and I looked onto a parking lot adjacent to the tracks and saw an AMTRAK conductor standing there talking to someone. Apparently we changed crews in Garrett, but I don't know if that is a regular crew change point, or if the crew which was presently on board had gone dead due to our numerous delays since Pittsburgh. We finally got moving again, with the new crew, and continued across northern Indiana, passing through Kimmel, Indiana! (my last name!) We departed Nappanee 5 hours 30 minutes late. The Nappanee station is another "Amshack" station next to an older and much larger boarded-up station. We had no more major delays as we approached Chicago, but had a couple shorter stops at various areas for freight traffic. At Clarke Junction, in Gary, Indiana, we had to wait for a few minutes while a freight train passed by on the main joint CSX-Conrail line through the steel mill area of Gary, then there were a few stops during the approach to Union Station. We traversed past the huge United States Steel mill at Gary, then through the Inland Steel plant to the Hammond-Whiting station, and I was surprised to see a Harrah's Casino between Gary and Hammond! I didn't realize that Indiana now also has legalized gambling. Approximately one hour before our arrival into Chicago Union Station, the sleeper car attendant took my suitcases to the vestibule for unloading. Generally, if a sleeper attendant helps me with my bags (even though I am certainly capable of handling them myself), makes up my bed in the evening when I'm ready, and takes it down at a reasonable time in the morning (again, even though I am certainly capable of doing those tasks myself), he can be assured of getting a full $5 tip or more from me.
We departed Hammond-Whiting 5 hours 34 minutes behind schedule, and to my surprise, there appeared to be several people at the station waiting to board the Three Rivers into Chicago! With the short distance from Hammond to Chicago and our tardiness, they certainly could have driven into town and gotten there sooner. I would imagine that those people who boarded at Hammond were most likely passengers connecting to other AMTRAK trains at Union Station.
North of the Hammond-Whiting station, I noticed that some of the older buildings I used to see in that area in years past have been demolished, such as an old Falstaff brewery which was located just north of the state line for many years, and which I used to always pass on previous AMTRAK trips. It was a cloudy hazy day in the Chicago area, and as we approached the station, the AMTRAK line passes the new White Sox Park, where there was a baseball game on this Sunday afternoon. The parking lots were full of cars parking and moving about, as well as numerous "tailgate" parties set up throughout the parking lot. Just past the ball park, the AMTRAK line passes beneath the Interstate 94 freeway, which appeared to be backed up and moving very slow, most likely with traffic going to the ball game. Chicagoans love their sports teams!!! We soon turned west onto the BNSF/Metra main line across the Chicago River, and began the slow backup move into Chicago Union Station, after the express cars we were carrying had been removed. We arrived in Chicago approximately quarter of 1 in the afternoon, 4 hours 56 minutes late, which is very unusual for the Three Rivers these days. Of course, I always try and plan my trips in such a way that I have very little chance of missing connections, so even today, I still had plenty of time to catch the next train, the Texas Eagle. I would not be able to visit the Field Museum, as stated above, but I would find a place to have lunch.
After disembarking from the train, the first place I went was the AMTRAK Metropolitan Lounge, which is the busiest Metropolitan Lounge in the entire system. Many people do not like the Chicago lounge, since it is always so busy, but I don't find it that unattractive, even though I rarely spend much time in it. When you enter the lounge, you have to show your tickets to verify you are a 1st class passenger, and "check in." You are then given stickers with your next train's number to put on your suitcases, and told to either store the suitcases in a large closet with shelves next to the check-in desk, or to take them back outside to a different storage area down the hall (I believe the only passengers who had to go down the hall today were those passengers connecting to the Southwest Chief). Passengers are not permitted to have suitcases in the lounge. You are also given a blue card, which you must show to the attendants each time you re-enter the lounge, and the card has on it the time you should return to catch your next train. On this day, the Metropolitan Lounge was very crowded, as it always is, and, as usual, there were no seats available anywhere. But, as I said, I do not typically spend much time in the Metropolitan (Or Acela) Lounges, as I use them mainly as a safe place to store my suitcases for a couple hours. All train boarding announcements are made in the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago, based on up-to-date information which is shown on computer screens at the attendant's desk. When an announcement is made, one of the attendants picks up a telephone and speaks the announcement into the phone, then hangs the phone up, and, as soon as the phone is hung up, the same announcement is instantly broadcast over the PA system -- kind of a unique system, I think!
After I stored my suitcases on shelves in the closet in the Metropolitan Lounge, I walked through the station looking for a place to have lunch. I believe they served lunch on the Three Rivers, but knowing the limited meal selection which was available on AMTRAK, I chose to have something different and eat in the station. I would still have plenty of time to alternately eat the one or two lunch selections available on AMTRAK over the next several days! I chose the Cajun place in the food court on the upper level of Union Station. As I approached the fast food area, an Oriental couple was working the Cajun place, and the man was yelling out "Yummy yummy! Come get some Cajun chicken here! Yummy yummy!! Cajun chicken! Yummy yummy!" After having my lunch, I walked outside and decided that I need to get a wall plug adapter for the remainder of my trip. The Viewliner sleepers have 2 outlets in each room, and I used one outlet for my camcorder charger/AC adapter, and the other outlet for my electric razor, which is normally plugged in and continually charged. I knew the Superliner sleepers only had one plug in each room, and I normally take an adapter from home on my trips, but I had forgotten to pack it this time, so I walked down Jackson Boulevard looking for a place which may have one. Today was Sunday, however, and most of the stores in downtown Chicago are closed, but I walked a few blocks and finally found a Walgreen's drug store which was open, and bought my adapter.