Amtrak Travelogue Part 3 of 4
Thursday, August 15, 2002
We got up early and headed for a grocery store to pick up a few snacks for the train. The type of things that we like to bring are usually only found in very large chain grocery stores. We did check a number of the smaller grocery stores around Chicago, but none of them had what we were seeking. Eventually, we just took a taxi to a Dominick's grocery store. Those are mostly located at the outskirts of the downtown area and in the suburbs.
Checkout time at the hotel is 11:00 A.M., but we were out by 10:00 A.M. There are almost always taxis waiting right outside the entrance to the hotel. We took a taxi to Union Station. The taxis now drop off and pick up passengers outside the station on Canal Street. They don't come inside the station anymore. I don't know if that has to do with September 11 or is just for better management of traffic. We checked in at the Metropolitan Lounge and stored our carry-on bags in the baggage room that they have set up for that purpose. Now that we were free of having to carry anything, we took a taxi to Johnny Rockets, a national restaurant chain that features a 1950's motif. That was located at 901 North Rush Street at the corner of East Walton near the upscale "Miracle Mile" shopping district of North Michigan Avenue. We walked south one block and then started walking east, I think on East Chestnut Street, where we found a grocery store. This store was small as far as grocery stores go, but it had many of the snack items that we had a hard time finding anywhere else in Chicago! We'll have to keep this place in mind for future trips. There was a taxi stand with many cabs waiting at the front of Johnny Rockets, so we were able to head right out and back to Union Station.
Upstairs in Union Station, I picked up a single serving size of deep-dish Chicago pizza. I usually do this whenever I take a train from Chicago. It was usually better than what is offered in the Dining Car on the train. Now, with the nationally standardized menu, it is definitely a better choice, even though it will be room temperature when I eat it later this evening! We then went to wait in the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge. Most of the passengers were waiting for either the eastbound Amtrak Empire Builder or the eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr. At about 1:40 P.M., the first boarding call was made for the Empire Builder, which departs at 2:10 P.M. The first boarding call was made about 2:50 P.M. for for our California Zephyr departing at 2:15 P.M. For each train, they have a first boarding call just for people that want Red Caps to assist them to the train. Then, about 5 minutes later, they call for the rest of the Sleeping Car passengers. That is when you can go to the baggage check room and retrieve your carry on luggage. A boarding call for Coach Car passengers is usually made after all the Sleeping Car passengers have boarded. Sometimes the boarding call for Coach Car passengers is made before Sleeping Car passengers have completely boarded, which can create quite a bit of crowding and confusion on the loading platform.
As we walked down the platform, we passed three private cars. One of the sleeping car passengers ahead of us asked one of the passengers on the private cars about the year the cars were built. They answered 1923. The cars did look like they were from that era! I'll try to take photos and get more information about them later on this trip. Our Sleeping Car, Car Loading Number 0532, was the very last passenger car on this train except for one Coach Car behind us. That Coach Car will be taken off this train in Denver tomorrow morning. This train usually has one extra Coach Car that travels back and forth between Chicago and Denver because so many people take the train between those two cities. They place it at the end of the train to make it easy to remove when the train gets to Denver. Our Sleeping Car Attendant said that he would not be putting out any bottled beverages until we got to Denver in the morning. The reason is that the passengers in the Coach Car behind us have to travel through all the Sleeping Cars to get to the Dining Car or Sightseer Lounge/Cafe Car. From experience, the Sleeping Car Attendants have learned that the Coach Car passengers will help themselves to any beverages that are placed out for the Sleeping Car passengers as they pass through. Thus, the stock of beverages gets quickly depleted. One that car is taken off in Denver, our Attendant said he would place beverages out where the Sleeping Car passengers can serve themselves as usual. In the meantime, we have to hit the "Call Button" if we want any beverages.
Our train departed right on time at 2:15 P.M., but quickly fell behind schedule express cars had to be added to the end of the train and BNSF freight traffic slowed further progress. We were already running 30 minutes late by the time that we reached Galesburg, Illinois, just 162 miles out of Chicago. Normally there is a smoking lounge in one of the Coach Cars on this train. But, due to current equipment shortages, there is no Smoking Car on this train and no smoking is allowed anywhere on this train this time! There will be smoke stops along the route, but they will be far and few! They will be at Galesburg (IL), Omaha (NB), Denver (CO), Grand Junction (CO), Salt Lake City (UT), Sparks (NV) and Sacramento (CA). Since Galesburg was a smoke stop, I was able to get off the train and take a few photographs. It was then that I noticed I was in the "George M. Pullman" Sleeping Car! This is one of only two Superliner I Sleeping Cars with a name, the other being the "Edward Ullman".
The train arrived into Denver, Colorado, about three hours late. The train had to spend a lot of time in the yard switching out the express freight cars and the Coach Car that terminates in Denver. One of the private cars, the Intrepid, also terminated in Denver. Since the Denver Coach Car and the Intrepid were between the last Sleeping Car and the other two private cars, the train had to be split apart and then joined back together again. This took quite a bit of time. When we originally left Chicago, our train had a total of 28 cars, including the express freight cars. Upon leaving Denver, we still have about seven Amtrak express freight cars, but now they were positioned between our Sleeping Car (0532) and the private railcars. Thus, the private railcars were at the end of the train and would have a great view from their rear platform! Actually, I've never seen Amtrak place the private cars behind the express freight cars. Whenever I have seen private cars on an Amtrak trainset, they have always been between the Amtrak passenger cars and the Amtrak express freight cars. I was told that the reason for this is that the private railcars have to be hooked up to the electric and signal control wires of the passenger train. Since most of the new express freight cars purchased by Amtrak don't have electric and signal control wires through them, they can't place the private cars after the express freight cars. I guess in this case, either these express freight cars have the electric and control signal wires through them, or Amtrak is making an exception and just pulling these private cars as though they were freight cars. Most private cars do have the ability to generate their own electricity for use onboard.
When passengers were finally allowed onto the platform, I quickly walked forward as far as I could go. I wasn't able to get the numbers on the three Genesis locomotives or the baggage car yet, but I did get all the numbers of the other cars as I continued to walk back to the rear of the train. I also took a few photos along the way. The Baggage Car was one that had been used on the Amtrak Vermonter before they discontinued checked baggage service on that particular train. It still had the Vermonter billboard painting on the side of it.
As I walked by the private cars, two of the passengers started calling to me: Mike Martin and William D. Hakkarinen. They are in the above photograph posing in front of the private cars. They were traveling in the private cars on their way to the NRHS convention to be held next week in Williams, Arizona. The two private cars were the Pullman Dover Harbor (800073) and the Missouri - Kansas - Texas 403 (800393). They will be switched over to the southbound Coast Starlight on Sunday and will thus also be on the Coast Starlight that I'm taking south on Sunday. Then, they will be switched onto the special NRHS train powered by the Santa Fe 3751 steam locomotive on Monday and head to Williams, Arizona. I got a few photographs of these cars in the Denver station, but I'll probably have an opportunity to take more photographs of them along the route.
Union Pacific dispatching kept us just outside the Denver station for about forty minutes, even though our train was all loaded up and ready to go. The train left the station platform at 12:10 P.M., but was not able to get onto the mainline until almost 1:00 P.M.!
Fortunately, even though we were running about four hours late, daylight stayed with us for most of our journey through the Rocky Mountains. I was able to take quite a few photographs which you can see in Sets 6 through 9 below. The train route followed the river through most of the Rocky Mountains which added to the scenic views. The sky was darkened from an extensive amount of smoke from a forest fire.
Grand Junction, Colorado, was a service stop for the train and passengers were able to step off for about 20 minutes. There was a fruit stand right on the platform selling peaches, apples and other fruit as well as soft drinks. There was also a small store inside the station building that sold a number of types of snacks, drinks and various souvenirs. Most of the souvenirs were either railroad related or related to the local area, such as jewelry made of petrified wood and various dinosaur artifacts. The name of the store is "Rockun and Gemun With E.T."
Passengers were allowed to step off the train onto the platform for 5 minutes at Elko, Nevada, for an unscheduled smoking break. The Art Train was parked on another track about 100 yards away across an open field. I had to use the full zoom on my camera to get a couple of shots of it. The Art Train is featuring "Space Art" at this time. In photo set #10 below you can see the two photos that I took of the Art Train and the photo that I took in the direction of the rear of our own train which shows a milepost sign right past the end of the platform.
At Sparks, Nevada, the Conductor had to get permission from the Union Pacific Dispatcher to allow the passengers to get off the train and take a five minute smoking break. The Conductor explained that Sparks is a working U.P. switching yard and permission is needed to let passengers take a break here. Permission was obtained and we were able to get off the train for a few minutes. It was really hot, even in the shade! We were told to stay on the marked platform behind the yellow lines and not to go to any of the buildings in the yard as they are all U.P. buildings. Passengers were allowed to go the newspaper stand and telephones which were across one live freight track, but we were told to be very careful that we don't step on the tracks. There is an engine greece on the tracks which will stain both shoes and the carpet in the Amtrak train. Previous times that I had been at this stop, it had been a long service stop. Passengers would just get off the train and wander all over the yard, especially if there was some interesting equipment in the yard like a large railroad snowplow. It isn't surprising that the Union Pacific has placed restrictions on when and where passengers can go at this stop. Also, it is now just a quick ten minute stop instead of the long service stop that I seem to recall.
We arrived into Emeryville, California, around 10:45 P.M., about 4 hours and 15 minutes behind schedule. This is the last stop for this train and all of the passengers had to get off. A few years ago, this train used to go another 5 miles down the tracks to Oakland, California. The very first time I took the Amtrak California Zephyr was east out of Oakland, California, and I have also taken it west from Chicago all the way to Oakland before. The reason why they discontinued servicing Oakland is that the yard where this train terminates is between Emeryville and Oakland. That meant they either had to use a switching engine or had to back the train up a couple of miles to get between the Oakland Yard and the Oakland Station. Since the Oakland and Emeryville stations are only 5 miles apart, and bus service to San Francisco serves both stations, it was easier to just terminate in Emeryville. Very few passengers would be inconvenienced since most either transfer to buses to San Francisco, or can just as easily start or end their journeys in Emeryville as Oakland.
Emeryville is a relatively new station having just been built in 1993. I think the pedestrian bridge over the tracks is even newer than that. I like the station, the platform and the bridge, but was very disappointed with the elevators. If I didn't have luggage, I would skip having used the elevators. The elevator call button appeared to be broken. The only way to call the elevator seems to hold the button in until it arrives. The ceiling lights in the elevator were not working. Fortunately, one side of the elevator is a glass wall that provided light from the outside. Elevators on both sides of the pedestrian bridge stunk of urine. Although the station appears fresh and new, and there are hotels, condominiums, appartments, a shopping area and office building in the area that all look fresh and new, and even the bridge is of a clean modern design, the elevators seem to be right out of the slums with their poor maintenance, smell, and the feeling of being unsafe at night. Even though it did not look like it had rained for a while, there were puddles on the floor both inside and outside the elevators at both ends of the pedestrian bridge. I don't even want to guess where they came from. There did not seem to be any security cameras in the elevators unless they were hidden. If they were hidden, they should probably be made more obvious as that might cut down on some of the problems and they should be better cleaned and maintained. Other than the elevators, the rest of the area was actually very very pleasant!
It was a cool evening, but not cool enough to need a jacket. Once we crossed the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the tracks, we were right in the parking lot of the Woodfin Suites, where we would be staying that night. The parking lot, like the station, and the pedestrian bridge itself, is very well lit. I felt pretty safe walking the short distance accross the parking lot to the rear entrance of the Woodfin Suites. Our room was number 219, on the second floor. If you visit this place, ask for an odd numbered room but make sure it is on the third floor or higher. This hotel would definitely qualify for www.RAILhotels.com, one of our new websites under development that will feature hotels near rail station and hotels with a view of the tracks. If you stay in any odd numbered room on the third floor or above at this hotel, you should have windows and a patio overlooking the tracks and the Emeryville Amtrak Station! I even had a decent view from my room on the second floor, but a roof to shelter guests entering from the rear of the hotel blocked part of my view of the station. This roof should not be in the way of anyone on the third floor or above. All odd numbered rooms have a view of the tracks, but the lowered numbered rooms on any floor will be closer to the actual station platform.
I would recommend this place to anyone that would like to spend some time in this area or that needs to spend a night when changing trains. The hotel has a full kitchen, including refrigerator, stove, microwave, coffeemaker, toaster, and even comes with all the dishes, glasses, pots and pans. So, it is a great place to stay if you want to save a bit of money and not eat every meal in a restaurant. Don't worry about breakfast as there is a free complimentary hot buffet breakfast every morning.
I made one last call to 800-USA-RAIL to get the train status before I went to bed at about midnight. The southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight was only running about 12 minutes late, which it could make up before it departed from Sacramento in the morning. I put a wake-up call in for 6 A.M. and we went to sleep.
(Before Denver, Colorado)
(After Denver, Colorado)
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