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Steve's Fall '97 Amtrak Journey
Sept 28 - Oct 7, 1997
Amtrak Silver Meteor - Train #97
New York City, NY to Jacksonville, FL
http://www.trainweb.com/travel/stevelog/sg970929g.html

The seventh segment of my rail journey was on the Amtrak Silver Meteor from New York City to Jacksonville, Florida.

Friday, Oct 3, 1997, 07:15 PM EDT, New York, NY

Radio: Channel 54 - 160.920 - New York City to Wilmington,DE.

After I boarded the train and got all set up, I heard this load noise from the Public Address (P.A.) speaker that sounded like a jack hammer! It was relentless! This wasn't the first time that I had heard this noise in the Viewliners. It also happened on I believe my very first trip in a Viewliner which I think was on the Lake Shore Limited.

The source of this problem seems to be in the P.A. system itself. I don't know if this is the exact same Viewliner Car that I had the last time that problem occurred, or if this is just a problem common to the Viewliner P.A. systems. The last time I had to endure that noise, I complained to the Car Attendant and he shut the P.A. system off.

I didn't have a chance to complain this time before they already went ahead and shut the P.A. system off. The Car Attendant then went around to every room to tell us that he would let us know when the Dining Car started serving and would also notify each of us personally of any important announcements.

So, if you end up in a Viewliner Sleeper and the P.A. sounds like a jack hammer, just be aware this is a common defect in the Viewliners. Just tell the Car Attendant and they will turn off the P.A. system for the car. However, make sure you tell your Car Attendant to let you know about important announcements that are missed.

Friday, Oct 3, 1997, 07:33 PM EDT, Newark, NJ
Friday, Oct 3, 1997, 08:10 PM EDT, Trenton, NJ

Sometimes I totally forget to mention important features of Amtrak accommodation if I myself don't find them very useful. There is an audio/video entertainment center in each Viewliner Sleeping Car, even in the Standard Viewliner Bedrooms. There are usually 5 channels of programming available. The first 3 are music and channels 4 and 5 are movies. At this very moment, channels 1 and 2 are carrying music in my room, channel 3 is empty, a movie has not yet started playing on channel 4, and "Liar, Liar", a current hit in the video stores and cable TV, is playing on channel 5. Using headphones, each person in the room can select their own channel and set their own volume. I don't think Amtrak supplies headsets so it would be a good idea to bring your own. Just the standard headsets that you use with portable CD and tape players should work fine. In addition to a set of channel/volume/lighting controls above each seat, there is also a control set by the upper bed. Then, there is one more set above the television itself. The volume control above the television is the only one in the room that will put the sound through the room speaker. All the other volume controls only put the sound out through the headphone jack.

My understanding is that there are 4 movies available, all current hits in video stores and cable television. Two movies play at the same time on different channels and they are run continuously throughout the day and night. At least that is the way it is suppose to be done. Better double check to make sure it will be that way on your train before you plan to enjoy a midnight movie!

A couple of rooms down we have a family, or at least a mom and a bunch of kids. She is the type of mom that likes to screem at the top of her voice: "Keep it down! Stop making so much noise!" This should be an interesting trip. I think the Car Attendant is going to have his hands full. They've already gone through the common occurance of one of the kids locking themselves into the bedroom before being taught how to unlock the door! I wonder what happens if they have a kid that is too young or too stupid to follow instruction yelled through the window on how to unlock the door. I'm sure they must have a master release for such emergencies.

Well, I already had a decent lunch today and even had half of a peanut butter chocolate pie for desert. Both the sandwich and the desert were excellent! I don't want to top that off with another meal today. Thus, I went down to the snack bar and bought a couple of glasses of red wine and a bag of fat free pretzels. That should hold me until tomorrow. It is almost 8:30 PM and they haven't even started serving dinner yet. I know what that means. The whole train will pile into the Dining Car for the first call since everyone has had a chance to work up an appetite waiting so long and most people don't want to eat any later than 8:30 PM. I think I'll avoid that madhouse and the possibility of being assigned a number that won't be called until 10 PM.

The Car Attendant brought another complimentary bottle of wine in a box with a glass engraved with the name of each Amtrak Silver Train. Hmm. That makes 2 complimentary sets when I took 3 Amtrak Silver Trains. I guess the Car Attendant on the Silver Star didn't give any gifts out.

Is it Christmas time already? Seems a bit early for that. I just passed what looked like an entire neighborhood with lights on their houses.

A side tip for those of you that bring a cell phone when traveling. I just switched to NexTel for my voice cell phone calls. For $89 per month I get 400 minutes of cell time each month. When I am out of my local area, it only costs an additional 15 cents per minute for long distance. There are NO roaming charges with NexTel. However, NexTel doesn't offer modem or fax capability yet. Thus, I have kept my Motorola analog phone to use with my modem. Since I only need that phone for 5 or 6 weeks out of the year, I got it on a plan with a low monthly rate and a higher per minute rate. Because of roaming, long distance, and minute charges, calling while on the road costs me about $1.15 per minute. Thus, I need to keep those calls short. I just use it to upload e-mail that I've prepared offline, download new incomming e-mail, and upload short files to the web. When I'm in my local calling area, I get 2 hours per month of free calls to one phone number of my choice. I selected my dial-up modem number so that I could use my cellular modem for 2 hours per month for free when I'm anywhere in Southern California! The plan that I have on my analog phone is from Airtouch Cellular, costs me $24.95 per month, gives me 30 free minutes to any number in addition to the 2 hours free to the one selected number. Above that, calls are 49 cents per minute, but I will just use my NexTel cellular phone for all other calls.

Friday, Oct 3, 1997, 08:49 PM EDT, Philadelphia, PA

There were a lot of guys with dogs on the platform. Since they weren't blind and pets are not allowed on Amtrak, I can only suspect they are narcotics agents with dogs sniffing for drugs again. It looks like they brought enough dogs to do all the cars at the same time! I don't use drugs but I do find this rather intrusive. Well, at least it doesn't come close to being as intrusive as airline security.

Friday, Oct 3, 1997, 09:16 PM EDT, Wilmington, DE
Friday, Oct 3, 1997, 10:08 PM EDT, Baltimore, MD
Friday, Oct 3, 1997, 11:07 PM EDT, Washington, DC
Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, ??:?? AM EDT, Richmond, VA
Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, ??:?? AM EDT, Petersburg, VA

Radio: Channel 54 - 160.920 - New York,NY to Petersburg,VA.
Radio: Channel 32 - 160.590 - Petersburg,VA to Jacksonville,FL.
The transition point from Channel 54 to Channel 32 is only approximate. I know they were using Channel 54 in Wilmington,DE and then were using Channel 32 in Petersburg,VA. The change could have been anywhere between those two stations.

Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 03:29 AM EDT, Rocky Mount, NC
Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, ??:?? AM EDT, Fayettesville, NC
Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, ??:?? AM EDT, Dillon, SC
Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, ??:?? AM EDT, Florence, SC
Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 07:15 AM EDT, Kingstree, SC
Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 08:16 AM EDT, Charleston, SC

The scenery along most of the three Amtrak Silver routes is "trees." Thick forests, thin forests, tall pine forests, just all sorts of forests! I am still amazed when I read in books about the "megalopolis" that supposedly stretches all the way from Boston to Washington,DC. There are suppose to be so many cities and so many suburbs that they all interconnect to form one continuous gigantic city. It certainly looks that way when you examine photographs taken from space of the lights on earth at night. However, if your only experience of the east coast was by train, you'd report of the nature of the east coast would be totally different. You would report that the east coast was mostly dense forests as far as you can see with an occassional large city or small town seperated by many miles of wilderness! If there are few forests left on the east coast, they must all be located on the land that is within 300 yards of the railroad tracks on both sides! Between the occassional city or town that pops up every few hours, it hardly looks like there are signs of civilization along much of the routes of the Amtrak Silver trains!

From time to time you will also find bridges and rivers that pop into view as well as some famous national sights in the nation's capital and in Philadelphia and other cities.

Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 09:06 AM EDT, Yemassee, SC

Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 10:05 AM EDT, Savannah, GA

Alvin McGrath, Jr. was at the Savannah station again as my train pulled in. We hadn't planned to meet this time, but I saw him walking by my window with his children. The train was pretty close to schedule this time so Alvin and I were able to talk longer. We talked about my trip and about his upcoming Amtrak journies in November and December. Once again, we had to stop mid-sentance as the conductor yelled: "Board!" But, I'm sure we'll finish that conversation via e-mail!

Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 11:00 AM EDT, Jessup, GA (Brunswick)
Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 12:30 PM EDT, Jacksonville, FL

There are souveneirs here! I purchased another black "Amtrak Silver Service" polo shirt and another while "Amtrak Florida Service" white T-shirt. This time the largest size they had was just "large." I also purchased a tan Amtrak baseball cap. They had some other shirts in smaller sizes and a few other Amtrak souveniers available.

Yesterday I gave some thought to what I would do while I was in Jacksonville for over 10 hours. I can work in an Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge for as many hours as I need to wait. I pretty much have everything I need since there is electricity and usually desk space in those lounges. There is also unlimited free coffee, soda, and sometimes snacks. However, there is no Metropolitan Lounge in Jacksonville.

I wasn't looking forward to sitting in a regular waiting room chair trying to get some work done off battery power for 10 hours. The station really isn't near anything, so even if I wanted to do a little sightseeing, I'd have to take a taxi somewhere. I heard about the "Landing" as a good place to tour. That sounded nice, but I really wanted to catch up on some work. If I was going to tour Jacksonville, I think I'd want to schedule a layover for a couple of days and go into town and the waterfront to do it right. There is a lot to see here.

Instead, I decided it would be worth it to stay in a hotel room for the 10 hours. That would give me a place to work and a telephone to use that wouldn't cost $1.15 per minute or more as the cellphone does. With America Online's new pricing structure, I can get on with a local call from almost anywhere in the country and stay on for as long as I want. The cost of the local call from hotels usually run about 50 cents to 75 cents per call and is even free sometimes.

America Online makes it real easy to connect to the internet while you are on the road. Your computer first connects to a free 800 number to obtain a set of phone numbers local to the hotel. I always keep the White Pages from the hotel room hand to find what prefixes are a local call to the hotel and pick matching prefixes from America Online. I then have my computer call an America Online local access number and I'm on for as long as I want for just 50 or 75 cents total!

If you don't like the America Online interface to the internet or to e-mail, no problem! Netscape Communicator rides right on top of your AOL connection. Just minimize AOL on your screen and bring up Netscape. The only drawback is that the AOL program doesn't know you are doing anything while you are in this mode and will try to log you off once in a while. To avoid that problem, just go use the AOL browser to look at a different web page every 5 minutes or so ... just so the AOL program knows that you are doing something. You might also be able to ride on top of AOL with the latest Microsoft web browser, but my version won't do that. It just keeps telling me the port is already open and won't work through the AOL connection.

Anyway, back to my story about getting a hotel room. I left e-mail for Randy over at Slotsy Tours & Travel. He made an unconfirmed reservation for me over at the Jacksonville Marriott (904-296-2222) and left a message on my voice-mail. With an unconfirmed reservation, I had until 4pm to show up and wouldn't be charged if I was a "no show". They had a weekend special for $79 per night with free breakfast, which I unfortunately would not be around to enjoy.

A van was waiting outside the Amtrak Station. I got in with another couple and a lady. The lady was going to the downtown Greyhound bus station. As it turned out, the other couple was also going to the Marriott to stay until the Sunset Limited's departure that evening! The driver gave us a little break since the 3 of us were going to the same place. He charged $20 per person instead of $25. Except for the detour to the Greyhound station, it would have been about a 20 minute ride from the Amtrak Station to the hotel. I was wondering if it might have been a lot less expensive for the 3 of us to share a taxi instead of taking this van. When we realized the 3 of us would be returning for the same train in the evening, we made arrangements for the van to come back to pick us up at 9:45 PM. The van driver said that would be enough time to get to the Amtrak Station by about 10 PM and still give us 37 minutes to wait for our train, assuming it was on time.

The other couple was mentioning how they didn't sleep very well because the train was rocking so much. I guess perception of that is all relative. They seemed to want the hotel partially to catch up on some of the sleep they missed last night. It can be more or less rocky depending on whether you are at the end of a car (more rocky) or the middle of the car (less rocky), and the position of your car in the train. Cars toward the center of the train seem to experience less rocking while those closest to the end of the train or near the locomotives will experience a bit more. But, I have been in cars in all of those positions and the rocking has never really bothered me. There have been a few exceptions, usually when I was in the most rocky part of the train while it was going over some rought track at high speed trying to make up some time. But, that has been pretty rare for me. I actually like the "gentle" rocking while falling asleep. I find sleeping perpendicular to the tracks as you can do in the Superliner Family Room and Deluxe Bedrooms, more soothing than sleeping parallel to the tracks as in the Standard (Economy) Bedrooms. I think that is because sleeping perpendicular to the tracks gives a head to toe rocking sensation where parallel to the tracks rolls you from side to side. As I said, this motion is very mild so don't get the idea that it is like a ship in high seas! I'd compare it more to taking a nap in a hammock. But, some people may be more sensitive to that motion.

While on the topic of "falling out", now might be a good time to talk about the upper bunks in the Sleeping Cars. I suppose it has happened, but I have never heard of anyone falling out of one. I have a difficult time seeing how that could happen if the Car Attendant has prepared your upper bed, or you have prepared it yourself properly.

There are two straps with hooks that attach to rings in the ceiling. These two straps along with a single cross strap effective block the side of the bed where you would fall out. The straps do not strap you in, the just hand loosely from the ceiling down to the side of the bed so that any attempt to roll out of the bed would be blocked. Even though I can't see how anyone could roll out of bed even with these straps slack, I personally like them taught. The only problem is, if you tighten them up, then it is impossible to connect them to the ring in the ceiling! There is a simple solution to this. Attach the hooks to the ceiling rings BEFORE you lower the bed all the way. You have plenty of slack until the bed is completely down. The same is true when you want to disconnect the hooks in the morning. Just put the bed up a little before you unhook the straps. Also, every Car Attendant tucks the bed sheets in as tight as if he just got out of boot camp! You have to squeeze yourself in like you were getting into a sleeping bag. Personally, I like my room cool at night and just want one thin sheet on me. Thus, I "untuck" the covers before I get into bed. If you don't "untuck" the tight covers, you will find that you probably couldn't fall out of bed even if there were no straps!

One last item on the bunks. In the Viewliner, I like to sleep up top because I can leave my computer and everything else set up below without disturbing anything before I go to bed. Also, from up top, I can open my window and watch the night view go by. As long as you turn off ALL lights inside your room and close the blinds into the hallway as much as possible, you can usually see out the window even at night. This is especially true if there is a full moon or you are traveling through cities. Also, the Viewline top bunk is even with the window so you can see out even when you recline completely. In the lower bunk, you would have to sit up to see out the window. When you open the top bed, you will see the matress and covers for the lower bunk is sitting on top of the matress and covers of the upper bed. Just unfold the mattress with covers and leave it right on top of the other mattress. This will give you a double thick matress for more comfort and raise you an inch making you pretty even with the window level. Unfortunately, there are no windows in the upper bed in the Superliners. Thus, in those, I put everything away and sleep on the lower bed each night.

The hotel was very nice. The room was very large and modern. I was in an end unit on the 4th floor overlooking the pool. This room was less expensive but certainly a lot bigger and nicer than the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York! Not wanting to waste time eating in a restaurant, I ordered room service. The meal prices were in the $6 to $7 range for lunch. I noticed that you could order Pizza Hut and have it prepared in the hotel and brought right to your room. Not having had Pizza since before this trip started and not likely to have it till it was over, I decided that would make the ideal lunch, being a pizza lover!

It rained for just a short while, but was otherwise sunny the rest of the day. I hear Florida weather is often like that. I just about unpacked and repacked everything in preparation for the next segment of my travel. Unlike the Viewliner, a suitcase doesn't fit into a Standard (Economy) Bedroom very well. Actually, a suitcase doesn't fit in a Viewliner Standard Bedroom very well either unless you can lift your suitcase over the top of your head and maneuver it into what is essentially a hole in the ceiling! But, using the upper bunk as a staging area, I've gotten pretty good at doing just that.

I like to move everything that I will need for my journey in a Superliner Sleeper into one carry-on bag plus my backpack. That way, I can leave my larger suitcase in the main luggage rack near the vestibule door and only take my two smaller bags into the room. This usually is pretty easy for me to do, though a little harder for the Sunset Limited since it is the longest route that Amtrak has. That is, unless you want to consider the Capitol Limited and Southwest Chief, which together are really a single route. Though, the train changes name, numbers and sits for over 8 hours in Chicago.

Once all repacked, I was ready to get down to work! The setup was great. They have a lamp on the desk and the base of the lamp has two grounded electrical outlets for your computer equipment and a phone jack for the modem. I was set up and running in no time without all the usual hassles with phone adapters and extension cords.

I also just discovered an ironing board and iron in the closet. A nice touch, even if I don't plan to use them at this time.

Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 06:57 PM EDT, Jacksonville, FL

I'm just typing away here in the hotel and it seems like I'm in another world. It doesn't seem like I need to get ready to catch that van back to the Amtrak Station in a little over two hours. Just seems like I was always here typing away and can just stay here endlessly typing away!

    Detectors:
  • Ch 54 - Mile Post 071.7 - (btw Wilmington,DE & Baltimore,MD)
  • Ch 32 - Mile Post 959.5 - (btw Kingstree,SC & Charleston,SC)
  • Ch 32 - Mile Post 978.9 - (btw Kingstree,SC & Charleston,SC)
  • Ch 32 - Mile Post 400.2 - (btw Charleston,SC & Yemassee,SC)
  • Ch 32 - Mile Post 421.0 - (btw Charleston,SC & Yemassee,SC)
  • Ch 32 - Mile Post 440.4 - (btw Charleston,SC & Yemassee,SC)
  • Ch 32 - Mile Post 551.1 - (btw Jesup,GA & Jacksonville,FL)
  • Ch 32 - Mile Post 572.0 - (btw Jesup,GA & Jacksonville,FL)
  • Ch 32 - Mile Post 592.0 - (btw Jesup,GA & Jacksonville,FL)
    Train Length: 1073 feet, Speed: 81 mph, Axles: 48


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