Ted Selke Dies
Theodore L. (Ted) Selke, retired B&O Railroad passenger agent, died on June 7. A very noted and respected member of the railfan community and a veteran of the second World War, he worked for a while as an agent for Trailways in Laurel, Maryland, his home, following his retirement from the B&O after 45 years of service. His wife, Mildred, was a stewardess/nurse for the B&O's National Limited. He was 93.
New Auto Train Track Going into Service
A new, lengthened lead track to Amtrak's Auto Train terminal in Lorton, Virginia, is slated to go into service today. Trains will now be able to depart without the need to double onto the CSXT mainline.
Amtrak's Oklahoma Service has Popular First Week
More than 1800 passengers rode Amtrak's new Oklahoma City-Fort Worth train in its first week of operation.
Amtrak Conductors to get Handheld Computer
Amtrak will introduce a handheld computer later this year that will enable conductors to more easily collect fares, issue seat checks, and to maintain an up-to-the-moment passenger count aboard trains. The device is being developed by Motorola's Worldwide Smartcard Solutions Division, and should be in use nationwide by late 2000.
Amtrak Offers Shuttle Service from Station to Downtown Richmond
Amtrak is now offering shuttle service between its Staples Mill Road train station serving Richmond and the downtown area. The shuttle is scheduled to meet four trains daily arriving from Washington, and the $4 fare compares to a taxi ride of about $15.
CSXT to Outfit Locomotives with Satellite Tracking System
CSXT has awarded a contract to GE Harris Railway Electronics to outfit 2800 locomotives with a global positioning satellite tracking system. This follows a pilot program in which the system was tested in 25 CW40-8 locomotives between November 1998 and February 1999.
Union Pacific Sees Surge in Rock and Cement Business
A surge in road and building construction has sharply increased Union Pacific's rock and cement hauling business in Texas and Louisiana, according to a UP report. For the first five months of 1999, UP handled 31,000 more carloads than in the same period last year, an increase of 26 percent.
Norfolk Southern Reports Backups and Routing Problems
"Our service is not at the level of quality our customers have a right to expect from Norfolk Southern," said David Goode, chairman, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern, in a report on June 16. The company said it had experienced computer system problems that have contributed to train backups and routing problems, but it had resolved the most significant problems with its information systems that provide customers with shipment information. "The cost of the Conrail integration may be higher than we anticipated, but the investment will pay off in efficiency and service enhancements on our expanded system," the report added.
Contracts Awarded to Construct 870-Mile Railroad in Australia
The South Australian state government has awarded contracts for construction of an 870-mile railroad linking Darwin and Adelaide, expected to be completed in 2004.
Museum Planned for 'Wreck of Old 97' Site
Developers in Danville, Virginia, have announced plans to create a museum at the site of the 1903 train accident known as the Wreck of Old 97, later immortalized in a ballad by David Graves George.
CSXT Integration Updates
[Excerpts from reports to CSXT employees] . . .
June 1 .. The early morning hours of CSXT's June 1 Split Date brought the spirit of cautious optimism to facilities throughout the system. Moderate traffic was reported to be moving safely, with no congestion. Power and other resources were in the right place. More than 200 trains moved over the cutover, with good crew availability.
June 2 .. Overall, an injury-free day was reported yesterday on the CSXT acquired territory. Locomotive power was properly positioned and in good supply. Crew availability was greater than 80 percent. This morning, 106 trains were running in the acquired territory at 6 a.m. The first eastbound intermodal train that left Chicago yesterday arrived in Willard 30 minutes ahead of schedule [and] reached its destination - North Bergen, N.J. - two and one-half hours early. "We've experienced a few execution problems, but overall this is working well," said Mike Madden, manager-train operations, Philadelphia Blue Room. "We need to keep our focus as the traffic builds at the end of the week."
June 3 .. On the former Conrail territory, safety overall remains on the positive side. Train velocity is in the satisfactory range, and locomotive power availability is good. Terminals and yards are busy but fluid. Crews continue to turn out... Despite the generally good reports, however, only two days have passed since Split Date and much work remains to be done.
June 4 .. Lightning hit the Operations Center at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday, disabling key communications and signaling systems on portions of the CSX network. The outage affected passenger as well as freight trains, with Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express and Maryland Area Rail Commuter trains halted during some of the rush hour... Signaling systems were disabled in the Michigan area and in the West Virginia/Kentucky coal region. The route between Chicago and Philadelphia was also affected. Dispatching capability was restored at 9 p.m., but service was intermittent until full restoration, including backup capability, at about midnight. All but two communications circuits had been restored by 2 a.m., and communications were fully restored by 9 a.m.
June 7 .. By the end of last week and through the weekend, operations slowed in several pockets along the CSX acquired network. Teams from CSXT and CSXI worked around the clock over the weekend to address data integrity issues coming about as a result of the cutover. The number of customer calls was somewhat higher, and intermodal train performance was not up to the usual standard. Internally, other issues were also addressed. Technology, Operations, Customer Accounting, Training and Development, and Payroll teams, among others, spent the weekend fine-tuning implementation procedures to help move traffic on the CSX system.
June 8 .. The CSXT Customer Satisfaction Center has handled a heavier volume of customer calls since the average on Split Date. Yesterday, CSC representatives handled more than 1650 customer calls, up considerably from the same period last year... And today, calls are up 14 percent over the same period yesterday.
June 9 .. Yards on CSX's northern region so far are receiving more traffic than anticipated, and that's good news, said Jeff Stephenson, director-consolidation. "Early traffic volumes would indicate that the benefits of this integration may be greater than they were thought to be. Cleveland, for example, had heavy traffic during the transition period, meaning that trains have not yet settled into the pace they will have when we get to the final service plan." Service is far from stalled, and employees are making adjustments. "We're determined to avoid the pitfalls inherent in such a large transaction," he said, noting that customers and shippers' groups have been public in their support. The locomotive power situation has been good throughout the system, with very few trains held for power post-Split.
June 10 .. With operations continuing mostly smooth in CSXT southern territory and heavy in the north, yesterday's activities brought better train flow out of the heaviest yards. Traffic out of Cleveland and Indianapolis, in particular, picked up momentum... Inquiries from customers continued heavy through the Customer Satisfaction Center... The integration of the acquired Conrail lines continues to progress, but not without some transition issues that are frustrating for some of our customers.
June 21 .. Despite measurements showing heavy activity in the northern CSXT terminals and higher crew mark-offs over the Father's Day weekend, the railroad was fluid in most areas Monday morning. Crews were able to make additional switches for local customers over the weekend in the New Jersey Shared Assets areas, thus alleviating some congestion in the Baltimore/Philadelphia to New Jersey corridor.
June 25 .. CSXT representatives, and their counterparts from Norfolk Southern, outlined the status of the Conrail integration this week in meetings before the Surface Transportation Board and the National Industrial Transportation League's Conrail Transaction Council. "Comments from customers and regulators were generally frank," said Tom Schoenleben, assistant vice president-marketing strategy and support. CSXT representatives described the processes undertaken so far to effect the integration and addressed the issues of slower service and congestion in the northern region. Toledo, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and the North and South Jersey Shared Assets Areas were identified by CSXT as regions under most intense focus for service improvements in the days ahead.
By Amtrak to Gallup, New Mexico
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
The name of my destination city, Gallup, is in no way connected with the Gallup Poll...(a friend asked me that); and it has nothing to do with what a horse does when it runs...(that's a different spelling). And one other thing: NEW Mexico is a part of the UNITED STATES ... (some people don't know that!).
IT'S too bad June only comes but once a year... It's my favorite month to travel. Of course, I could go by Amtrak other times of the year, and perhaps on future trips I shall. But herein is my report for this year's adventure...
The date was Tuesday, June 8. Gallup was chosen as destination as I had never been there. Moreover, it's an Amtrak stop with convenient times in both directions. My route would take me first to New York, then overnight to Chicago on the Late Shore Limited (spelling intentional), and Chicago to Gallup on the Southwest Chief. Returning, I'd take the Southwest Chief back to Chicago, the Capitol Limited to Washington, and the NEC back to Baltimore. (Total duration of eight days and seven nights, including three nights in Gallup.) My itinerary presupposed that all connections would be made, but I did have a backup plan in the form of an extra day of vacation at the end - just in case! Traveling long-distance by Amtrak is always an adventure, and I've learned all too well to expect the unexpected...
Arriving Penn Station in Baltimore to catch the train to New York, I had a chance meeting with Tom Hiers. Remember him? He was featured in the Bull Sheet a couple of years back when he was the MARC ticket agent at Dorsey. More recently he was mentioned for his work as conductor on the Liberty Limited Dinner Train. Now he's a conductor on CSXT; his presence at Penn Station owing to having just deadheaded back from Philadelphia.
I then decided to try and upgrade my Baltimore to New York coach-class seat to business-class. But herein I encountered a snag - at the ticket office - by being informed that any changes to my ticketing would incur a $30 service charge. What? Mind you, I was prepared to pay the stepup differential (which is $27) - but the $30 service charge would have been in addition to that! That's (apparently) the rule. (The agent explained that I could stepup to business class aboard the train, and the service charge would not apply, but I didn't.) For this quirk in the rule, Amtrak lost a $27 sale!
The train left Baltimore about nine minutes late, and it remained just as late into New York. As we sped our way along the Northeast Corridor, a song from the late 1950's played in my mind. Do you old-timers remember the song Lipstick on Your Collar sung by Connie Francis? Well that's the song I remember from a 1959 Pennsy trip I took from Baltimore to Washington, it playing in my mind as I watched the scenery pass at high speed, and I've adopted that song for such an instance ever since. Somehow, it seems to fit the occasion...
It was a hot and humid day in New York, but the temperature in the Metropolitan Lounge seemed a bit chilly. Otherwise, it was a pleasant experience; the accommodating manager taking his time to explain the amenities that would be available both in the lounge and on the train. I relaxed as I awaited the time for departure, but I did venture once from the lounge's sequestered sanctuary into the mayhem of Penn Station's general area to witness its sea of humanity. It was the early part of rush hour, maddening, both in the Amtrak and Long Island sections. But to Amtrak I must extend hearty kudos for a very welcome amenity - music, just loud enough to be heard, but soft enough to be enjoyed - the type of music I could listen to through the rest of my life and well into the hereafter - lending great tranquility to, I'm sure, many a receptive ear. Thumbs up, Amtrak - I like that music!
Back in the lounge, it was 10 minutes before the 4:35 PM scheduled departure when an announcement was made that the train was still in the yard being serviced. There was no estimate of the length of delay, either. Ouch! A couple of updates followed, but it was not until 5:45 PM that boarding was announced. I had hoped I could eat my words about calling the train the Late Shore Limited, but now I knew this was no misnomer! This train was late!
My room was number 1, in the Imperial View, on the right side of the train. I was in a right-side room last year, too, an arrangement that avoids seeing the Hudson River out of New York. Oh, well, the laws of averages will come to my rescue some day! We left New York one hour and 29 minutes late. But it only took a couple of minutes to get a hint of why we were so late in the first place. There were headend power problems! Exactly three minutes after we left, we stopped. For the next 21 minutes I enjoyed the view of a refuse-strewn hillside just outside my window. Finally, we began to move - not forward, but back once again into the station. It was now 6:28 PM (we were supposed to leave at 4:35 PM), and an announcement was made that mechanics were going to look at our engine. It would either be corrected, or we would be getting another engine. I pondered if this meant that another engine might be en route - just in case - or would we have to await word from the mechanics before they'd even dispatch the engine, adding further to the delay... My question was moot; we pulled once again at 6:55 PM, now two hours and 20 minutes behind schedule.
I tried out the electronic stuff - the movies on the tiny monitor (one channel worked, another worked only part time), and the music system (no music on any of the channels), until we were far enough out of town to enjoy what scenery is available on the right side of the train, ignoring such amenities.
In the due course of time, first call was made for dinner, and I connived my way for a seat on the left side, facing forward, and enjoyed Grilled Medallions of Sirloin in the company of three other passengers who collectively enjoy Amtrak adventures for much the same reasons as I... As we picked up speed north of Poughkeepsie, the river to our left, the sun set behind the hills in a fiery red and golden glow... For dessert, I had looked forward to eating Amtrak's famous Turtle Pie - which was on the menu - but there was none. All they had to offer was Carrot Cake.
Following dinner, I walked through the train counting passengers. Omitting those in the sleepers, I counted 107. This was before our train had reached Albany, at which point the Boston section is added, so the count only reflects those in the New York section. While on this particular safari I noted a new amenity - added since last year - in the form of a "hermetically-sealed" room in one end of the lounge car for smokers. Previously those wanting to puff could do their thing in their end of the car in the open. This new arrangement addresses the considerations of all passengers - smokers and non-smokers alike - and should be a real plus. I know, too, that there are some passengers who do choose to ride Amtrak simply because they are allowed to smoke en route, unlike airplanes and buses.
I then retired to the comfort of my room, herein beginning a week long ritual of going to bed early each night to prepare for an early rise. This was only my third trip in a Viewliner, but I had learned early on that the best place to sleep is in the upper berth - which has an eye-level window. This is a distinct advantage over the standard bedroom arrangement on the Superliners - which have no upper windows. Moreover, the Viewliner has far more headroom, and considerably more storage space for luggage within the room. Add to this the advantage of a sink and a john in the room (which the standard bedrooms of the Superliner do not have), the Viewliner is a much better way to travel. The standard bedroom (x-economy bedroom, x-compartment) is actually built for two people. I would see this as a rather cramped arrangement; I'd always recommend that two people get space in a deluxe bedroom instead.
When we left Albany, we were two hours and 12 minutes late. My game plan was to stay awake as long as possible, with the room darkened and the curtain open, to watch the passing lights at night. But the rhythmic motion of the train quickly did its thing, and next that I remember was stopping early the following morning in Erie. By then we were two hours and 37 minutes late. Back to sleep for a brief period, I awoke once again with the train stopped next to some covered hoppers. Back to sleep, then to awake a few minutes later next to some tank cars. (Had we moved, or they?)
So spectacular was the sunset of the evening before, so was the morning's sunrise. The day dawned clear; high clouds developed later... East of Ashtabula, Ohio, we ran around three westbound freights, but then we got stabbed by a hopper train... The diner opened at 6:30 AM, and I was its first customer for breakfast. It's worth noting that first-class passengers get treated to all meals on the train, and I didn't want to be left out. Normally I don't eat breakfast, nor do I often observe even a two-meals-a-day regimen, due to my peculiar schedule, but on Amtrak trips things are different. Health-wise (for me), travel is good therapy... My breakfast partner was an 81-year-old lady who was riding coach. She avoided sleepers, and for a rather subtle reason. Her story goes that she was booked once to ride a sleeper (at government expense) during the second World War, from St. Paul to Washington, but just before her trip she learned of a murder in a Pullman car on the Empire Builder, allegedly by the Pullman porter, and the lady swore off riding sleepers, and has avoided them ever since.
The morning announcement aboard the train made a play on words, much as I had coined the name earlier, about the (Late) Shore Limited. Leaving from Cleveland, we were two hours and 49 minutes late... With the rhythmic cadence of the wheels and the melody of the chimes from the engine, we sped across Ohio, punctuated by periodic slowdowns. We had picked up a mere two minutes by the time we left Toledo... I then walked through the train (the Boston section now included) and counted 170 passengers - again, excluding those in the sleepers.
Just before we arrived in Bryan, the train's last stop in Ohio, we came to a halt. We sat. And sat. After a delay of 15 minutes, we were told we were waiting for train #44 - the Pennsylvanian - to do its station work in Bryan. (Was I missing something? The Pennsylvanian isn't even scheduled to stop in Bryan!) A few minutes later, #44 passed. Then as we made our own stop in Bryan, it became evident that trackwork was the real problem; #44 had to get through first because the station track was out of service. With this delay, we had lost additional time, and when we left Bryan, we were three hours and 22 minutes late.
I wiled away the time across the initial portion of Indiana watching the ever-flat scenery flash past, and I timed the passage of mile posts consistent with a track speed of 79 MPH. I mulled, once again, the song Lipstick on Your Collar... We left Waterloo three hours and 24 minutes late. Having had an early breakfast, I began to wonder if there would be any provision for lunch. Normally, our 11:15 AM arrival in Chicago would make this point moot, but surely others would be thinking the same thing. So I went and asked the on-board services chief about lunch. There would be no lunch in the diner, he said, but the snack bar was open. But were we, the sleeping car passengers, expected to pay for it? "Yes," said he... But several minutes later, a member of the dining car staff (the cook, I think) told me that sleeping car passengers would indeed be given lunch, such as it was, by taking their ticket to the lounge car attendant, and desired goodies would be provided gratis. Right on! So I went to the lounge car and got myself a hot dog, tuna sandwich, bag of chips and soda - no charge... Upon returning to my room, I told the couple across the aisle what was happening, and the husband went to the lounge car, with their tickets, with an order for both of them. But when he came back, he told me that he had to pay for it. It seems, by then, another attendant had gone on duty, and he would not give out any freebies to any passengers, including those in the sleepers... This bothered me... Recalling how similar situations had been handled in the past - with the train running so late as to encompass a meal period not comprehended by the schedule - I pondered the need for Amtrak to adopt a uniform policy on the matter. Seemingly, they have no policy, or whatever policy there is gets its guidance from the on-board services crew of the train involved. Is it asking too much that such a policy be made uniform system-wide? I don't think it's unreasonable for Amtrak to offer lunch (from the lounge car, if not from the diner) to sleeping car passengers if the affected train does not arrive at its destination until after the lunch period has passed. This, then, was my greatest gripe for the day - not so much for myself (since I did get my lunch for free), but for the other sleeping car passengers who, I believe, deserved the same treatment!
Thanks to some padding in the schedule, we were only two hours and 55 minutes late (after a mere three-minute stop outside the station to cut off the mail) arriving in Chicago. They had announced that train #7 - the Empire Builder - was being held for those connecting to it from our train, and that station personnel would be on hand to direct those passengers toward their train. I had seen this done on an earlier trip, rather efficiently, with station personnel holding signs directing the way to #7. But not this time! No! Instead of using signs, the station folks tried hollering their instructions, which only added to the confusion because of the loud noise they were competing with from the roar of our train's engines. Whatever happened to those signs? Surely they've learned by now how much more efficient they can be. And it's not that they're unaccustomed to late arrivals and held connections in Chicago!
The chaos on the platform quickly changed by the tranquil music (such as was heard in New York) within the station itself. Right on! I made my way to the Metropolitan Lounge. Last year's visit to Chicago's Metropolitan Lounge was somewhat chaotic due to a baggage storage problem. But this time there was a sign by the door directing passengers for #3 to the proper storage area to check their luggage prior to entering the lounge itself. This was an improvement (signs can work wonders, when used), and this year's experience was abundantly more pleasant. The staff inside the lounge was pleasant, too, appearing pleased that I had already checked my luggage before entering the lounge.
During my shortened layover in Chicago, I paid an obligatory visit to the station's Great Hall to pay homage, and then took a walk of several blocks. I had counted on taking one of the boat trips on the Chicago River, but there was not enough time.
I returned to board my train (#3), which left the station at 3:26 PM - six minutes late. The conductor lifted my ticket before departure, as expected, but nowhere to be seen was the dining car steward to take reservations for dinner. This was my dilemma - albeit minor - as I wanted the first dinner seating, yet also wanted to enjoy the Sightseer Lounge at first opportunity. I was informed that the steward would first visit the sleepers, then the coaches, and finally the lounge car. So if I really wanted first seating, I was advised to remain in my room until the steward came through - whenever that would be - and only then should I venture to the lounge. But I wanted to go to the lounge right away so I could get a better view of the comings and goings in Union Station yard while we were stopped waiting for the mail. I just couldn't have it both ways (sob, wah!)... Initially they had asked everyone to remain seated until the mail was added, because of the jostling, but several minutes later (before the mail arrived) a conflicting announcement was made that the Sightseer Lounge was open. Still no dining car steward. So I decided to go to the lounge and take my licks at dinner seating, even if it would have to be later than first call... We waited and waited out in the yard, I perched in the lounge watching the activity - now approaching commuter rush hour - with the mail having been delayed. At 4:08 PM, 42 minutes after we had pulled out of the station, an announcement was made that the mail was "on its way," and we should be leaving in about ten minutes. Ha! In fact, it was not until 4:32 PM - to the cheers of those in the lounge - that the mail cars moved past our train to be coupled up. Then, at 4:51 PM, we were on our way.
The steward finally made his rounds - I, having forfeited first seating priority, got the seating for 6:15 PM. I guess I shouldn't complain (much) over the arrangement, but on previous trips out of Chicago, dinner reservations had almost always been taken before we left the station.
We were moving along at quite a good clip when, at West Hinsdale, Illinois, directly next to a commuter train, we made an emergency stop. Twenty-one minutes later, we left. (It was a broken air hose.) Leaving Naperville, we were one hour and 32 minutes late.
Dinner (at 6:15 PM) revealed that staggered seating had been implemented - meaning that at no time would a full load be arriving into the diner at the same time. It's a rather relaxing arrangement. For dinner I enjoyed the New York Strip Steak. My table partners were a lady, her daughter, and a friend, en route from Syracuse (off the Late Shore Limited) to Arizona.
Back in the lounge car following dinner, they were playing some stupid movie (much too loud), so I stationed myself in the middle part of the car to watch the passing scenery (mostly cornfields)... Later, I retired to my room, taking the lower berth (placing my luggage on the upper), but the darkened room idea to see the sights at night was thwarted by the window being too far above eye-level from the bed.
Thursday, June 10, dawned cloudy. We were two hours and three minutes late leaving Hutchinson, Kansas. My sleeper had run out of water... During breakfast, it began to rain, and in the Sightseer Lounge car following breakfast the rain was coming down in a rather steady fashion... The roadbed across Kansas seemed a little rough in places... Before arriving in Dodge City, the headend power began playing some games with the lights. Of this, I pondered that if airplanes were built with the same precision as Amtrak's headend power systems, nobody would dare want to fly!
Dodge City, Kansas, has a large depot that has seen better days. Just a small portion of the building is used for passengers, and the rest of it is boarded up and looking forlorn. Leaving there, we were two hours and four minutes late... It had stopped raining with blue sky on the west horizon when we stopped at Garden City, Kansas. There were puddles all around from the rain that had just ended. A few minutes later, the sun shone through... I returned briefly to my sleeper. There was still no water... During our stop in La Junta, Colorado, water was added.
The town of Trinidad, Colorado, at the foot of Raton Pass, appears to be a neat sort of place. Perhaps I'll add that to my list of places to visit someday. We left there one hour and 59 minutes late... Our ascent into the mountains parallels Interstate 25. Looking forward as we rounded bends, I noticed that our train had four units, all elephant-style... Lunch (my first lunch of the trip in a diner) was an especially enjoyable experience as we topped Raton Pass through the tunnel into New Mexico. I was joined at the table by Mike, 80, a retired engineer on the ATSF. He had hired on as a locomotive fireman in 1940, recalling that he often shoveled eight tons of coal in a 16-hour day. It was hard work. Following service in the Navy in the second World War, he returned to the railroad, later being promoted to engineer. He enjoyed life as a railroader, but wishes that he had remained in the Navy.
New Mexico is a beautiful and interesting state. From the train, the landscape often changes. Also, there are still a lot of semaphore signals... At Albuquerque (my Amtrak destination in 1990), passengers were permitted to detrain while the train was serviced. Its once proud depot is gone now, having been damaged by fire, and the compound is now somewhat of an eyesore. But this will change. The new Alvarado Transportation Center is slated to rise upon the site, modeled as an improved version of the earlier depot.
Between here and Gallup, my destination, I had dinner, something that might not have been possible had the train actually been on time. We arrived in Gallup at 8:29 PM - one hour and 44 minutes late. As we entered town, I got a glimpse of my hotel, thereby getting my bearings should I choose to walk to it from the station (which I did).
The most historic hotel in Gallup - El Rancho - located on old US route 66, it was opened in 1937 by the brother of movie magnate D.W. Griffith. Its claim to fame is having been headquarters for a number of movie productions filmed in the area. It has a grand two-story lobby, the balcony to which is adorned with autographed photos of movie stars having stayed there. The doors to each of the guest rooms include the name of a particular personality. Mine, room 203, was named for Lorraine Day. The room - moderately priced at less than $50 a night - was small, its bathroom utilitarian, but it did have the fantastic advantage of having its own private outside veranda (most do not). Moreover, it overlooked the tracks (although from the third floor, there would have been a better view of the trains). Nighttimes, with the veranda door open, I got serenaded by passing trains, all of which sounded their horns not more than a block away. What a treat!
Friday, my first full day in Gallup, I rented a car. My first stop was at Red Rock State Park, just east of Gallup, site of a museum, ceremonial area, and sculpture garden. Next I visited Window Rock, Arizona, headquarters of the Navajo Nation, site of the Navajo Veterans Memorial next to the famous Window Rock formation, a large museum which also serves as a conference center and library, and a zoo. (I stopped briefly in the Navajo Nation headquarters building for literature. There, in the lobby, some of the staff members were watching television. It was a John Wayne movie. "They're Arapahoe, all right," said Wayne, just before a charge.) That afternoon I paid a visit to Four Corners, site of the cornerstone joining the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Also seen in the distance en route was Shiprock, a spectacular 1700-foot high formation from an ancient volcano, about 20 miles south of Four Corners.
I spent most of the following day exploring Gallup by foot, and relaxing on the veranda. I ate lunch at El Navajo Cafe, located in the train station. I inquired of any Navajo selections that they served. They had none. So I settled for their Philadelphia-style Barbecue!!!
There is much to do in the Gallup area; an ideal visit would include at least four full days to take in all of the area's points of interest.
On Sunday, I left by train for the trip home. The train was 57 minutes late leaving Gallup... Between Gallup and Albuquerque, a member of the Native American community regularly gives a lecture (very informative) for the benefit of those in the lounge car about points of interest that can been seen from the train. On this particular day the guide was Chester Hubbard, a member of the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Association. I had talked with Mr. Hubbard earlier in Gallup while waiting for the train. He and two others alternately share the lecture duties on the Southwest Chief, under contract with Amtrak, which includes the eastbound train in the morning and the westbound train in the afternoon. Mr. Hubbard explained a great deal about the Navajo Nation and its people. They have an elected president and a tribal council. The reservation, which is larger than West Virginia, has five agencies (similar to states) located in Arizona and New Mexico, each having chapters representing the local level. A blood quantum of 25 percent Navajo is required for tribal membership. It is the largest Native American tribe in the country. He added that the Navajo language is said to be one of the five most difficult languages in the world to learn. The language was instrumental during the second World War when about 400 tribal members serving in the Pacific used it as part of a code for communication between ships and bases. The code was never broken. In fact, it was not even declassified until 1969. August 14 of each year is celebrated as Navajo Code Talkers Day, and about 200 of the participating members are alive today.
We were just 17 minutes late leaving Albuquerque, but we got delayed by (I guess) signal problems between there and Lamy, upon leaving which we were one hour and five minutes late. It was raining then, rather heavy - the type of rain that suddenly fills the area's dry gullies (called arroyos) with rushing water. A good place to watch this phenomenon was the Sightseer Lounge, which I did... New to the Sightseer Lounge, at least for the time being, are lounge car attendants on both levels. And (wonder of wonders) they even stagger their breaks so someone remains on duty throughout the day and evening. The upper-level attendant only sells limited items (nothing hot), but it's a great convenience to those in the upper level who don't want to take the time to descend to the lower level to get refreshments. This feature, I'm told, is being tried on the Southwest Chief, with the upper-level attendant currently working the route between Flagstaff and Chicago... Going around the curves, I looked back and counted 16 mail and express cars on the rear. This, of course, is the real money-maker for Amtrak. If the company is ever going to break even, this will be the reason!
I had intentionally selected a late (7 PM) seating for dinner in an attempt to time it after our descent into Trinidad. My timing was off, due to our lateness, but I'll not regret eating a dining car meal in the midst of scenery. One thing I did not miss, in the lounge car following dinner, was its lack of a movie. It seems the VCR was broken!
I retired to the upper berth, even though it has no window. To use the lower berth presents a preponderance of setup and luggage-moving problems, all of which get eliminated by merely leaving the luggage on the seat and climbing into the upper berth. But the ordeal of climbing into the upper berth is only for the agile. Unlike the Viewliner, there is little head room (you cannot sit up in bed), and to maneuver one's self into the upper berth is not unlike trying to climb through a porthole, feet first!
We were one hour and 29 minutes late leaving Topeka. For breakfast I was joined by two very delightful ladies from Baltimore. We had picked up 15 minutes upon leaving Kansas City, only to lose it all and more by creeping along for about 45 minutes due to apparent construction and trackwork... Leaving Fort Madison, on the bank of the Mississippi River, we were two hours and two minutes late... East of Galesburg, now bored and back in my room, I took once again to timing the passage of mileposts. In one 17-mile segment, we averaged a little over 77 MPH.
We arrived in Chicago at 6:04 PM, one hour and 59 minutes late. Paying homage once again to the Great Hall, a couple of walks around the station and back inside, I noticed that Lounge G was open. Lounge G? Well, that's the lounge Amtrak uses - kind of a war room - when a train misses its connections. All too well I remember the place when I had missed connections five years ago. Anyway, the place was then empty, but its presence in the open condition foretold an ominous happening about to take place. I checked. Yipes! The California Zephyr was marked up to arrive at 9 o'clock. Would this mean that my train - the Capitol Limited - due to leave at 8:05 PM, would be held? No, I was told.
In fact, the Capitol Limited did not leave from the station until 8:23 PM. Then, while we were stopped out in the yard, waiting on our mail, the California Zephyr came past us. This was 8:32 PM. We remained standing, and I convinced myself that Amtrak would likely protect its connection after all - probably by pulling us back into the station once the mail was attached - to pick up the CZ's connecting passengers. Not so. We pulled from the yard at 8:44 PM. We did not go back for CZ's connecting passengers. I reasoned, had we done so, we could have been on our way again by 9 o'clock - or only about 16 minutes after we had actually left the yard for our run east. I later learned that 16 passengers from the California Zephyr had missed their connection to the Capitol Limited. Perhaps some of the passengers - to Pittsburgh, at least - may have been reaccommodated on the Three Rivers, due to leave Chicago at 9:25 PM. Others may have been reaccommodated to destination by way of Philadelphia, on that same train. I don't know. But I really felt for those 16 folks. I could have been one of them, had I chosen a destination on the California Zephyr this year instead of going to Gallup. Then there would have been 17 connecting passengers instead of 16. Would that have been enough to hold the Capitol Limited for a mere 16 minutes?
First call for dinner was at 9 o'clock. But it wasn't really dinner. It was supper. Indeed, it had a somewhat of an abbreviated menu - Steak and Eggs, for example. Steak and Eggs? There were other selections, too, but not what one would usually find on the evening dining car menu. Apparently, the selections are the result of our late schedule (with supper call not until 9 o'clock) that this particular menu was offered. But finally, after all those dining car meals, I did get to enjoy something I had looked forward to - for dessert: Turtle Pie!
We were right on time leaving from the first two stops in Indiana. I believe we were on time when I retired, too. (My sleeper was the same one as I had on the Southwest Chief, but in a different room.)
Awake the next morning, we were about an hour and a half late, having been delayed, I was told, in Toledo. I then got to see some of the congestion along the Norfolk Southern (ex-Conrail) line before reaching Pittsburgh. We ran around at least two freights along one segment that were inching their way to a stop behind a third freight having no crew.
Passengers with connections in Washington to the southbound Silver Star, due to leave there at 4:35 PM, were advised to board a bus in Pittsburgh to assure their connection. This, I'm told, is a regular procedure when the eastbound Capitol Limited is as late as we were that day into Pittsburgh (which often, it is). One passenger in my sleeper, traveling with his daughter to Florida, did not particularly like this idea. Said he, "If I had wanted to take a bus in the first place, I would have!" He was willing to be reaccommodated on the later connection, the Silver Meteor, due to leave Washington at 10:59 PM, if space was available. Technology has not, for now, caught up to Amtrak with the concept of securing such reaccommodation from a moving train (hopefully this will change). In any event, kudos are extended to our helpful sleeping car attendant who accompanied the passenger to the ticket window upon our arrival in Pittsburgh, and the wished-for reticketing was made. The passenger and his daughter stayed on the train into Washington, and both were happy. We left Pittsburgh one hour and 44 minutes late.
It was mostly cloudy, with a hint of rain. The scenery along the route through Pennsylvania is quite picturesque, indeed with high rock outcroppings and spectacular waterfalls to rival even those of the Rocky Mountains. It's good that the eastbound Capitol Limited covers this portion in daylight, if only for this reason... Lunch, my last meal on the train, was the diner's offering of Windy City Barbecue. Thus concluding this main attraction of Amtrak - its meals - I must commend this year's adventure for the fine quality of all its meals. They were great! I say this knowing that others agree; Amtrak takes great pride in the food it serves. I even heard others say that for the meals they prefer Amtrak to flying. (Who likes airline food, anyway?)
We arrived in Washington one hour and 56 minutes late. The final leg of my journey was the 6:20 PM NortheastDirect train to Baltimore. Having been on five different trains on my week of adventure, with all of them having been late, I pondered if I could count on at least this one train being on time... It was!