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Rich's 1998 Amtrak Trip



Washington, DC to New Orleans, LA

July 31 - August 1, 1998

(Railroad Log #80c- Washington to Atlanta)

Well, this trip is almost over for another year now. Only 2 more legs and I will be home again. While waiting in Washington, DC, I took a short walk to a city park located across from Union Station and watched the afternoon commuters walk back and forth from the Capitol Building, then went back inside Union Station and waited in the Metropolitan Lounge. The Crescent arrived in Washington close to schedule, and the AEM electric locomotive was replaced with a new Genesis diesel engine, I assume (I did not see the train before we boarded, so I only assume that all trains are still powered by electricity between New York and Washington). At the boarding call, I again carried my two suitcases through the concourse and down the escalator into the waiting train. The Crescent, of course, consists of Amfleet coaches, Amdinette, a diner, and two Viewliner sleepers. I was met at the doorway to the sleeper named "Eagle View" by "Susan" the car attendant, who is a very pleasant and helpful young woman. I settled into Room 11 and prepared for this leg of the trip -- got out the books I have put together which contain topographic maps of all the AMTRAK routes and got the video camera ready for more scenery. The Chief on this train was Mr. O.C. Smith (wasn't he that singer who sang "God Didn't Make Little Green Apples"?)

We left Washington only 2 minutes late, which is basically "on time" according to my standards. The first call to dinner was announced soon after departure, by "Morris," the dining car steward. Morris is from Trinidad in the Caribbean, and had a very distinctive, almost comical accent when he made his announcements. I soon found a table in the diner and was joined by a young black couple from Chicago, who were going to a family reunion in Atlanta. Apparently they had also been on the Capitol Ltd with me. When I make these multi-leg train trips, I very often run into the same people on two or more consecutive segments of my trips. They typically enjoy the trip they are on, but invariably ask me how I can stand to spend 10 or 11 nights on a train! How does one answer that? It is definitely something you have to get used to, and of course I enjoy all aspects of my trips, and I am rarely uncomfortable at all on my adventures. I took some video from the diner. It was getting late in the evening, and we saw several deer along the track as we traveled through Bull Run Park outside of Manassas. I tried to get some video of the deer, but I never could catch the critters in time as we passed by them, even at reduced train speed. We left all the stations on schedule during the evening, and I had gone up to the Amlounge for a glass of wine after dinner, then went to bed after the Lynchburg stop.

In the morning, I awoke somewhere around the Clemson, S.C. station. The train was still running on schedule, and it was cloudy outside. It was difficult to take good video from this train as we traveled through the Southeast, since the entire route is basically through thick vegetation -- many densely-forested areas, and a lot of kudzu!! Now and then, through the kudzu and the trees, a small town would appear. Most of the small towns through which the Crescent passes are rather quaint, and very attractive. You get the feeling you are going back in time as we pass through some of these small towns. Shortly after I awoke, I found a table in the Amdinette car, where I sat for most of the day, as is usual on my trips. And, also as usual in Viewliner/ Amfleet trains, the crew typically sits at the last table in the "table lounge" portion of the car -- unlike the Superliner trains, the crew typically does not have a "transition dorm" car to hide in (see Part 5 of this travelogue -- the California Zephyr portion). Here is what I mean by "table lounge" -- on most of the Amfleet dinette/lounge cars which AMTRAK currently uses, there are two parts to the car. One part contains I believe 8 tables (4 on each side) with bench seating, at which passengers can sit and eat, play cards, lay out books and magazines, etc., and in the other half of the car there are several smaller tables and individual chairs. In this part of the car, smoking is generally allowed, depending on the smoking rules for each individual train (and the rules differ from train to train!), as smoking is generally not allowed in the part of the car with the 8 tables. In the center of the car is the food service area. On the Crescent in 1998, smoking was not allowed on the train except during two or three designated "smoking periods" each day, in which smokers could sit in the part of the dinette car that has the smaller tables and chairs, the "smoking portion."

As the morning went on, we continued to operate on schedule, and left both Toccoa and Gainesville, GA on time. Traveling across northern Georgia, one can see areas which were damaged by tornadoes a few weeks before my trip through the area. Many of the areas were in the process of being cleared of fallen trees. We arrived in Atlanta 5 minutes early, and prior to arrival in Atlanta, an announcement was made that the lounge car would be closed while we were stopped, and everybody was to return to their seats so the crew could "sweep" the train and check tickets, to make sure no one got on the train overnight without a ticket. I had not run into this on any of the other trains I was on, and didn't know it was a problem in the Southeast. How could anyone sneak onto the train without a car attendant or crew person seeing them?

I stepped off the train for a few minutes at the Atlanta station, and it was chilly, cloudy, and windy -- certainly not the kind of weather one would expect in Georgia on August 1! I talked some to Susan, as well as to the lounge car attendant, who was also taking a break outside the train.

(Railroad Log #80a - Atlanta to New Orleans)

The Crescent left the Atlanta station on time, and the Amlounge again opened, so I went back and found a table. The lounge got more crowded after the Atlanta station, and there were quite a few kids on the train today. Again, most of the scenery visible from the train was trees and kudzu, with an occasional small town, so my video of this portion of the trip has a lot of greenery in it! A few minutes after departure from Atlanta, the route of the Crescent goes through a large Southern Railway/CSX yard, and finally the Crescent began losing time -- I was hoping that this train would be the one which ran on time this journey, but such was not to be. Apparently there were a few freight delays, but nothing too serious. The on-time performance of this train was pretty good compared to some of the other trains I was on this trip, most notably the Zephyr (see Part 5 of this travelogue). We departed Anniston, Alabama, only 9 minutes late, so we were still doing quite well. I had no connection at the other end of this line in New Orleans, as I had planned on staying in New Orleans overnight and catching the Sunset Ltd back to Orlando, the following day. The Sunset only runs 3 days a week, and because of the days of my travel, the next Sunset would not leave until the following day -- besides that, a night in a motel is always welcome, even considering how much I enjoy staying in sleeping accommodations on trains!

I had lunch in the diner between Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, as the route began to cut across the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. I had lunch with a young man from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who was returning from a trip to Atlanta to visit his father. I had finished eating by the time we had arrived in Birmingham, so got off the train for a few minutes. It was a bit warmer than it had been in Atlanta, and the sun was now shining. As I was standing on the platform, I noticed there had been several windows knocked out of one of the taller buildings in downtown Birmingham-- I assume that was more tornado damage from recent storms in the area. I did not document our departure time from Birmingham, but I believe we had left within 10 or 15 minutes of schedule. Outside of Birmingham, in the City of Bessemer, we had to stop to allow the northbound Crescent to pass us (Train #20).

We departed the next station, Tuscaloosa, 19 minutes late, and were keeping up track speed. One of the crew in the lounge car was talking to some kids about the Indian burial mounds which are visible from the Crescent at Moundville, Alabama. Of course the mounds and the State Park were shown on my route maps, but I believe I was temporarily disoriented with the maps because of the dense vegetation and kudzu which was still the dominant feature visible from the train between small towns, so I welcomed the conductor's comments to the kids and got re-oriented on my map, then got the video camera ready to capture the burial mounds. Shortly after the burial mounds, I finally came to the end of my fourth 2-hour video tape cassette, so had to get out the 5th tape after all. Yes, I had taped a full 8 hours since leaving Orlando 8 days ago. I had purchased an 8-hour VCR tape back home, onto which these tapes would be transposed after I got home. I was hoping to be able to fit the entire trip onto one 8-hour tape, but now will not be able to, and I don't believe you can purchase VCR tapes longer than 8 hours. The last hour or so (estimated) of this trip would be put on a different tape.

Passing through northern Alabama, even more areas of tornado damage were visible from the Crescent. Also, the noise level in the "table-lounge" was getting excessive from kids, so I sat in the "smoking lounge" part of the car for a few minutes, during a non-smoking period, and took some more video. To my surprise, an announcement was soon made that dinner will be served on the train. Due to the scheduled 8 PM arrival in New Orleans, I was not sure if dinner would be served or not. The first call for dinner would be 4:30 PM -- no reservations were required. I opted for that seating on this train, since I wanted to get some good video of the last few minutes into New Orleans, especially when the train crosses Lake Pontchartrain. So, as we were passing through Laurel, Mississippi, I was eating dinner -- alone for once, since there were very few other passengers eating at this time. After dinner I returned to my room in the Viewliner, and Susan commented that I had not been in my room very much at all that day, which of course is true. I sat in the room most of the rest of the way into New Orleans, and Chief O.C. Smith was giving a commentary on the various towns and natural features through which we were passing. I don't know if he had been giving a commentary all day, and perhaps the P.A. system in the Amlounge was not operating, but I did enjoy listening to his comments on the last leg of the trip into New Orleans. We departed Hattiesburg 50 minutes late, and O.C. had announced that Hattiesburg is the home of the PGA "Magnolia Classic," the only major golf tournament in the State of Mississippi. O.C. also announced that the lounge car would close for the remainder of the trip 10 minutes after our Picayune stop, and that this was the "first call for the last call."

We departed Picayune 50 minutes late, and Slidell 59 minutes late. As we began to cross the 7.2-mile long causeway over Lake Pontchartrain, a very pretty sunset was visible in the west. O.C. pointed out the New Orleans Yacht Club, the New Orleans Lakefront Airport, and the Bally's Casino boat on the other side of the causeway, and I was able to take a little more video in the rapidly-fading evening light now. We would be in New Orleans soon, so I took one last video shot of the train passing through the City Park. We arrived in New Orleans approximately 30 minutes late.

Even though I had an overnight layover in New Orleans, and would spend most of the day in the city, I was a bit concerned about the Sunset Ltd, which I would be boarding the following evening for the last leg of this trip into Orlando. According to the last few weeks, the Sunset had been running several hours late into New Orleans each day, and had been known to arrive as much as 15 hours late! It was scheduled for departure at 8:15 PM on Sunday evening, and scheduled to arrive in Orlando 3:20 PM Monday afternoon. If it were running 4 to 5 hours late, that would not be a problem, since I would still arrive in Orlando by 9 or 9:30 PM Monday, and I was expected back at my office Tuesday morning. If the train was going to be 15 hours late, however, this would not be acceptable, since I would arrive in Orlando at 6:30 or 7 AM Tuesday morning. If the train were going to be that late, I would consider flying from New Orleans to Orlando on Monday morning. After the Crescent arrived in New Orleans, the first thing I did was check with the ticket agent, but alas, they had no idea whatsoever how the Sunset was running, and told me to check tomorrow -- unfortunately, a typical AMTRAK answer from some crew bases. It would not have been a problem for them to check with http://www. that evening, but they chose not to. Okay, I'll call tomorrow and check. Meanwhile, it was off into a taxicab for the short ride to the Mid-town Holiday Inn on Tulane Street for the night and a well-deserved rest on a bed that doesn't move! I had planned on spending the day Sunday sightseeing, maybe taking in a bus tour of the City, the "Plantations Tour," or maybe the "Swamp Tour."

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