Amtrak Adopts New Logo
Amtrak has replaced its inverted arrow logo which has represented the company for 29 years. The new brand identity features a "Travel Mark whose shape, convergent lines, and suggestion of movement capture the excitement of the travel experience."
Amtrak Introduces Guest Satisfaction Guarantee
Amtrak has introduced an "unconditional guarantee" of guest satisfaction, "a first among national travel and transportation industry providers." Under the guarantee, which began July 4, the company promises all of its guests a safe, comfortable and enjoyable travel experience. If their lack of satisfaction concerns cannot be addressed on the spot, customers may call Amtrak for a service guarantee certificate entitling them to equivalent travel in the future.
Amtrak Opens New Auto Train Facility
Amtrak has opened its new $25-million Auto Train facility in Lorton, Virginia. Improvements from the previous facility include a 450-seat waiting room, a cafeteria, six new vehicle unloading ramps, and a 1500-foot platform that can handle an entire train in one move.
Microsoft to Introduce New Train Simulator Program
Microsoft Corporation will introduce a new Train Simulator software program for home computers, to become available next spring, covering the route through Marias Pass in Montana, Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, Britain's Flying Scotsman, Kyushu and Odakyu railways in Japan, and the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. Player activities range from keeping passenger time schedules while managing unforeseeable barriers, to negotiating freight trains through mountain passes in winter storms, to navigating some of the world's busiest commuter lines, according to a press report.
BNSF and CN Terminate Plans to Combine
Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian National have terminated combination agreement that would have created North American Railways, Inc. The companies had announced their proposed combination in December 1999, and the Surface Transportation Board imposed a 15-month moratorium on rail mergers in March 2000.
BNSF to Donate Abandoned Line for Trail Use
Burlington Northern Santa Fe has announced plans to donate a four-mile portion of its rail line between St. Joseph and Collegeville, Minnesota, to the state to help extend a proposed recreational trail. The line involved has been approved for abandonment. It was built in 1872 by the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, becoming a part of the Great Northern Railway in 1907.
Paul Funkhouser Dies, Retired CSX President
Retired CSX president Paul Funkhouser died on July 19 at the age of 77. He became the company's second president in 1982. Earlier he had been president of Seaboard Coast Line Industries.
By Amtrak to West Glacier, Montana
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
I love this place! Glacier Park is so easy to reach by train, and once again I decided to come here. Actually, this was my third visit to the area in six years - in 1994 to Essex and the Izaak Walton Inn, in 1998 to East Glacier and the Glacier Park Lodge, and now to West Glacier and Apgar Village on the shore of Lake McDonald. Wow! Does one really need an excuse to be riding Amtrak?
It was not until just two weeks before the trip that I decided to go. But to my surprise, I found that space was available at that very late date to book my exacting itinerary, and off I went.
My tools of the trade (in order to write this report afterward) consisted of a pocket notebook, and ballpoint pens. Also, I took along Harry Ladd's U.S. Railroad Traffic Atlas (Ladd Publications, P.O. Box 1671, Orange, California 92668-0671), an extremely useful guide as reference, ideally suited for identifying rail lines and their traffic densities, to accompany me whenever I ventured into the Sightseer Lounge car.
My adventure began in Washington, Tuesday, June 13. I arrived from Baltimore on a NorthEast Direct/Acela Regional (or whatever they were calling it that week) train, and I spent some spare time by walking over to and around the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, out in front of Union Station, they were shooting a movie.
This was to be my first ride on the westbound Capitol Limited (#29) since 1997 (my two more recent trips were via the Lake Shore Limited from New York), and likely it would be my final chance to ride past Miller Tower (returning the same way) before the tower closes. On-time boarding was announced, and we followed the leader to our accommodations. My room was on the upper level, and I reintroduced myself to conductor Bob Doxtater, who knew me well from my regular wave from the tower steps when I'm on duty.
As we pulled from Union Station, I noted that this was really the best part of the trip; all the fun was still ahead of me. Just before reaching the former site of QN Tower, still in Amtrak territory, I saw a track worker give a friendly wave to all the passengers. I waved back; he saw me, too. So there, I'm not the only railroader who delights in waving to train passengers...
In due course, I made my way to the Sightseer Lounge. As we went through Barnesville, we passed the eastbound Capitol Limited (#30), running very late (which it usually does!).
As we passed Point of Rocks station, there stood Mark Ryman, a railfan I know, taking video of the train. I waved; I don't think he saw me (but perhaps I'll show up in his video).
In the lounge I met a couple from St. Louis taking a roundabout train ride to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. The husband told me he had once worked for the Frisco Railroad in their tax department. I shared with them my mounting enthusiasm for the forthcoming cherished event of passing my workplace, Miller Tower, which we did, promptly on time, at 6 o'clock.
We were early getting into Cumberland and had to dwell there for several minutes. On the platform I spotted Denny Fisher, whom I know from the area. I waved (and he knew I'd be aboard), but he did not see me.
Hello Amtrak: Here's a mistake in the Capitol Limited's printed route guide... The valley just west of Cumberland is known as the Cumberland Narrows, not the Cumberland Gap!
I had intentionally selected the 8 o'clock dinner seating, but since there were no other sleeping car passengers choosing this time slot, they invited me to come into the diner early, which I did just before reaching Hyndman, Pennsylvania. I joined at the table a couple of ladies who were finishing their meal. As it is my custom when traveling first-class, with the cost of meals included, my selection for dinner is typically the most expensive, which in this case was Prime Rib. What a treat - dinner in the diner, with a bottle of wine, in a light rain, while ascending Sand Patch grade! It doesn't get much better than this! Amtrak and its Capitol Limited, may they both live on forever!
The rain had stopped by the time we crossed the mountain, and at Glade City there appeared a "melodious" sunset. About the time we were going through Meyersdale, someone asked our attentive server where we were. "Coming into Cumberland, I think," said he. Ha! But think about it: This just proves how attentive he really was - to the task at hand - serving meals. It's not a particularly relaxing job, being on one's feet, running back and forth on a moving train for up to three hours at a stretch, so a server can surely be excused for not knowing where the train is at the time...
For dessert I selected Amtrak's famous Turtle Pie. Indeed, it was my once-a-year experience to enjoy such a luscious item. But just this once. If there were such a thing as a "no-no" gauge to insert into food to check for this-isn't-too-good-for-you gremlins, the gauge would likely explode on the spot. Subsequent dessert selections I made on this trip were more benign, but the Turtle Pie I had that night certainly was great!
Following a restful night, the train was right on time into Toledo (but 15 minutes late leaving). For breakfast, I noticed that the menu was printed for the Cardinal. I was joined at the table by a couple from Fairfax, Virginia, en route to Indiana, who told me they had not slept too well for the clickity-clack and movement of the train. Golly, that's just the thing that puts me to sleep...
Back in the Sightseer Lounge car, there was evidently a problem with its thermostat. For a while it would be comfortable, and then it would get really, really cold. So cold, in fact, on several occasions I could faintly see my breath...
We were 35 minutes late leaving from Hammond-Whiting, but (thanks to padding) right on time into Chicago. (No kidding!)
During the layover (after my customary ritual of paying homage to the Great Hall), I took a water taxi ride on the Chicago River - about an hour for a round trip - for a fare of just two dollars.
Back in the Metropolitan Lounge, which by one o'clock had become quite crowded (and the Lake Shore Limited had not gotten in yet), I relaxed to the amenities the lounge had to offer. Then, at 1:40 p.m., by which time a boarding announcement for the Empire Builder's 2:10 p.m. departure would normally be imminent, we were told that there would be at least a 30 minute delay, or maybe up to an hour, before the train would be ready. Then, at 2:30 p.m., we were told that there would be at least another 45 minute delay. By this time the lounge was packed beyond capacity. Folks were standing around, perched upon armrests, etc. In fact, the only serene spot in the entire station was up in the Great Hall, and I took the occasion to return to it once again for a few moments of solitude, keeping watch of the time and my eye on the monitor. How ironic it is that the very place the lounges were designed to replace would in turn become the spot to find peace, a reverse of what the hall had witnessed on such occasions a generation earlier.
The Empire Builder finally left the station at 4:36 p.m., two hours and 26 minutes late, our explanation being that there had been engine problems.
My dinner in the diner (Steak!) was enjoyed in the company of a former bridge inspector of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern, now working in a similar capacity with the Minnesota Department of Transportation; a retired machinist en route to Wolf Point, Montana; and a young Navy man returning home (also to Wolf Point) following his graduation from boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois. So, too, had I graduated from that same place many years before, and he and I had a lengthy dialogue of our respective experiences.
The following morning I awoke arriving in Dilworth, Minnesota, for a fueling stop. Later, leaving Fargo, North Dakota, we were two hours and 36 minutes late.
Following breakfast I reposed to the Sightseer Lounge car to partake of North Dakota's flatness, armed with Mr. Ladd's atlas to identify adjoining lines and junctions. But herein I became befuddled as none of the points seemed to jibe with reality. Then it became clear; an announcement was made that we were actually on a detour route! Wow! Rare Mileage!
What had happened was indeed evident by the preponderance of standing water on the flattened terrain. Just a day and a half earlier, heavy rains had blanketed that part of the state, and the train's normal route by way of Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby had been taken out of service due to washouts. So we were being routed on the line that runs from Fargo directly to Minot, a shorter line with no stops along the way. Had we been on time, I would likely have missed witnessing most of this mileage in daylight, a treat it therefore was for me, although there was little to distinguish it, scenery-wise, from the regular route.
We picked up a little bit of time on the shortened route, and we were just two hours and 11 minutes late leaving Minot (the passengers from the three missed stations having been bussed to that point). The day's edition of the Minot Daily News duly noted the impact the rains had had upon the area - over eight inches of rain in some places - with the whole southern half of Wells County becoming a lake...
We passed the eastbound Empire Builder at Malta, Montana, and then we had to reverse onto the track that the eastbound train had been on, after it had left the station, in order for us to do our own station work. Amtrak charged us nothing extra for the additional move we had to make.
Passengers were given a letter from Amtrak promising a "transportation credit coupon" as consolation for our late departure the previous day from Chicago. An apology was made for the problem that had been encountered, and affected passengers needed only to send their ticket stub to the company in Chicago for an adjustment. Well! I sent them my stub... but over six weeks later, I have heard nothing...
We passed through some rain squalls, one rather heavy accompanied by thunder, as we plied our way westward across the plains, the majestic mountains distantly in view. Except for meals, I spent most of my time ensconced within the Sightseer Lounge car, finally returning to my room after we had passed Essex (and dutifully returning the waves to the guests at the Izaak Walton Inn).
It was 10:08 p.m. (mountain time), two hours and 42 minutes late, when we arrived at West Glacier, my destination. The conductor accommodated me by spotting my car directly in front of the station, as I was the only passenger to be getting off. There were none getting on, either. So, in effect, the train stopped just for me!
West Glacier (Belton) is a non-agency station, but rail-friendly members of the Glacier Natural History Association, which uses the building for a bookstore, meet each train to assist passengers as needed. A van was waiting for me to take me to my lodge. I waited on the platform while the train left so I could wave to the passengers, and then we made the three-mile journey into the park to Apgar Village. It was late, and the attendant at the park entrance had left, so I paid my fee at the drop box.
I had been told that the lodge office might be closed when I arrived, and my key would be in an envelope taped to the door. "But what if it's not there?" I had asked earlier. "Then knock on the door and wake me up," was the reply. Sure enough, the envelope was NOT there, so I knocked on the door. The manager came out. Oops! I was at the wrong lodge! He directed me to the right place, just up the street.
The confusion was in the similarity of the names -- Apgar LODGE, and Apgar Village INN -- I having space in the lodge, and the van driver (who normally works as a security officer elsewhere in the park), did not know one from the other.
I settled in for the night - a quiet, tree-shrouded, rustic-looking cabin-type complex with its back window overlooking McDonald Creek. The sounds of the night included water flowing into the creek from Lake McDonald, raindrops from intermittent showers striking the metal roof, and the faint melody of train horns way off in the distance echoing their way up the valley. They, along with the crisp, fresh mountain air, offered a blend of absolute tranquility. It was great!
Nights are incredibly short in Glacier Park the middle of June. Indeed, there is some form of natural light for about 18 hours a day, and I was up early (Friday) to enjoy my first of two full days at the place. Following breakfast, I went to the lodge office to check in, but I was told to go the the Apgar Village Inn if I wanted to book one of the sightseeing tours. There, the same gent I had disturbed the night before, took my reservation for the following day (Saturday) for a tour to Logan Pass. I had been to Logan Pass on my 1998 trip, but was happy to venture there once again (it's worth seeing twice).
I then set out to do some hiking. My first hike, using a three-mile paved trail, took me back to West Glacier for a daylight view of the historic train station. Later in the day I took a hiking trail into one of the hills west of McDonald Creek (although hiking alone in the hills is not recommended).
I ate all of my meals during my stay at Eddie's, in Apgar Village, a homey eatery with reasonable prices, which featured Mountain Rainbow Trout, Hot Apple Cider, and Huckleberry Sundae.
The following morning (Saturday), I once again hiked over to West Glacier and back. Then, at one o'clock, the appointed time, I reported to the Apgar Village Inn to await arrival of the van to take me on the tour to Logan Pass. (The tour was to begin at another location, but they would come over to the inn and pick me up.) I waited, and waited, and waited. The van never showed up!
The gent at the inn was sympathetic, but he was unable to find out why the van had not appeared. He did say that there had been some sort of "management change" with the tour concessionaire the day before, and things were in a state of upheaval as a result. My disappointment in not getting the tour was offset somewhat when I learned that the traditional "Jammer" buses, those historic relics with retractable canvas tops, which since the 1930's have so dutifully taken folks on tours of the park the old-fashioned way, had been replaced (for now) by modern vans with tinted windows. (Yuk!) It seems that the fleet of Jammers had suffered from metal fatigue, and a decision was pending on whether or not they would ever be used again. I hope they do. Those Jammers are fun!
But this caused me to ponder my particular fate of the following day (Sunday) and my need for transportation back to the train station. The same concessionaire which offers the tours in the park also provides shuttle service to the station. Hmmm! So I told the man at the inn I might hike over to the station in the morning to catch my train, since by now my route and timing had been well rehearsed (albeit not with luggage), to make certain that my connection would be made. But he insisted that this was not necessary; if the van did not show up for me in the morning, he or his wife would drive me to the station. Anyway, I could never count on it not being a rainy day!
On Sunday morning a van did appear at the appointed time, and I was its only passenger. The driver, who was a bellhop at one of the other lodges in the park, explained that things really were in disarray at the travel office, that he was not normally a van driver, and he did not even know how much to charge me for his effort (I gave him $10). He got me to the station in plenty of time, and the train was reported to be running 53 minutes late, having had (once again) engine problems.
The train got further delayed, and when it arrived, it had as its lead locomotive a BNSF freight unit (clean), which remained on the point for the balance of the trip into Chicago. Several other passengers got on the train, and there were some who got off, but with my sleeper on the rear, the conductor had the train pull down for a second stop - just for me.
We left West Glacier at 10:11 a.m., one hour and 55 minutes late. The diner was no longer open for breakfast, so I reposed to the Sightseer Lounge car for the duration of mountain travel, and then some, until it was time for lunch. My companions at the table included two ladies en route from Los Angeles to St. Paul, and a gent who was a retired deputy sheriff who travels (commutes?) the route between Chicago and Seattle every seven weeks.
Just before our arrival in Havre, Montana, which is a service stop, we were held for several minutes pending a dispatcher's decision to give our train preference over the westbound Empire Builder. Had the westbound section been given preference instead, we would have been delayed by about another 30 minutes. Both trains are fueled and supplied at that location, and only one train can be worked at a time. Normally this would not be a conflict (eastbound and westbound departure times are over two hours apart), but our lateness caused us to arrive about the same time as the other train, which was waiting just east of the station when we left. By then, we were two hours and six minutes late.
As time went on, we continued to lose time. At each station we were later than we were before, and there were no discernible delays to account for it. Then it was announced that, because of our freight engine, we were restricted to 70 MPH instead of the normal 79 MPH. (Gee, I guess I should have known that!) This made enough of a difference that by the time we left Wolf Point, we were two hours and 31 minutes late.
For dinner (steak, again), I was joined by a family of three returning from vacation in Oregon, the father being a pizza driver from Minnesota who had bought their tickets using an award for safe driving.
As noted earlier, my sleeper was on the rear. It was part of the Portland section which got added to the train at Spokane. The diner, however, is coupled behind the two Seattle sleepers, which are on the front. This meant that for a passenger in the Portland sleeper to walk forward to the diner, all of the coaches have to be passed through. It's good exercise, but it is an obstacle course, too... Heads laying on armrests, feet in the aisle, babies on the floor, etc., all with the swaying of the train and sudden lateral motion to account for. It can be tricky.
I retired following departure from Stanley, North Dakota, but not before being assured that we would indeed cover the same rare mileage portion from Minot to Fargo as we had covered on the going trip. I awoke somewhere between Fargo and Detroit Lakes, and on departure from there we were three hours and five minutes late.
During our stop in St. Paul, I had the pleasure of meeting John Downing, a member of the Piedmont Carolinas Chapter NRHS, who was accompanying the 6-double bedroom lounge car Pine Tree State, then parked at the station pending further movement in excursion service that weekend to Kansas City.
We were two hours and 48 minutes late leaving St. Paul, having picked up some time with a shortened dwell, but we lost more time with the slower running of our freight engine. Still, the betting was that we would probably arrive in Chicago in time to connect to the Capitol Limited, or at least so it seemed until we got to Columbus, Wisconsin. There we had a very lengthy delay, including a backup move for baggage, for connecting passengers to Amtrak train 21 who boarded waiting buses to take them to (I believe) Galesburg. By the time we left from Columbus, we were three hours and 53 minutes late. We then took the siding at Cooney, Wisconsin, to meet the westbound Empire Builder.
In the due course of time, our conductor announced that both the Lake Shore Limited (#48) and the Capitol Limited (#30) would be held for our arrival in Chicago - even providing us with the track numbers each would be leaving from, and where they would be in relation to our own train whence we got there (a great idea!).
So when we got to Chicago (at 8:09 p.m., three hours and 29 minutes late), I proceeded at once to my connecting train, #30. The platform seemed ominously void of activity for a train about to leave, and I found my way to my space without anyone directing me thereto. It was then that I learned that the train was not ready for boarding. Oops! The attendant allowed me to stay, however, and nobody else questioned by premature presence aboard the train. From the intercom could be heard messages between train personnel about the need for linens, etc., I being careful to remain sequestered in my room.
The delay in boarding was not due to the late arrival of the Empire Builder, but from the missed connection of the equipment off the Southwest Chief. Our train had actually been made up from scratch using whatever could be found in Chicago.
After about 25 minutes, passengers began to appear. It was then that I met three ladies from Olympia, Washington, who were en route to Washington to receive an Amtrak award for their volunteer work in developing the classic depot at that location. We chatted for several minutes, I sharing my own interest in station preservation for which they were delighted.
Then, at 9:08 p.m., both our train and the Lake Shore Limited, which was on the next track over, left from the station at the exact same time. Such excitement! Indeed, we were neck and neck for about three minutes, I betting that the Lake Shore would soon overtake us, since it was due out ahead. Wrong! It slowed, and we sped on ahead. Presumably the Lake Shore had to stop in order to add its mail and express (we already had ours), so we got the advance slot. By now, we were one hour and 23 minutes late.
Dinner (Prime Rib) was served at 10 o'clock. I shared a table with a couple en route to Baltimore to attend a square dance convention, also a fellow who had acquired a rather cantankerous attitude about Amtrak and its service. He had evidently harbored some ill feelings toward our server, and when he did not get his milk as he had requested (waah!), he took his case directly to the steward, elsewhere in the car, the ensuing discussion being perhaps a little heated and out of line. The conductor was summoned to intervene. The fellow was back at the table when the conductor arrived, the conductor's tact and diplomacy being successfully put to the test (and how thankful I am that I never chose to be a passenger train conductor, if just for this sort of reason!).
Following dinner, I retired, slept well, and awoke as we were coming into Cleveland. At breakfast, I met a gent from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, en route to Martinsburg, West Virginia, returning from Utah, who had once worked at the Underground Pentagon at Fort Ritchie, Maryland.
We were one hour and 36 minutes late leaving Pittsburgh. It was a cheerful morning as we made our way eastward, the load being rather light, and I set up camp in the almost empty Sightseer Lounge car to enjoy the ever pleasant scenery along the Youghiogheny River. I introduced myself to conductor Ray Hetrick, and (again, from earlier trips) to assistant conductor Jim Fratangelo, advising both that my days at Miller Tower were numbered.
Lunch, my final dining car meal for this year's adventure, was shared at the table with a couple, both of whom being retired college professors, and a lady, also a former teacher and more recently a drug counselor, with whom we were all having such great discussion following lunch (and there being no dessert available) our friendly server had to gently prod us into leaving so he could finish his work.
I was somewhat impressed to this point in my trip, to West Glacier and return, that there had been very little freight train interference with any of the trains I had ridden, at least that I was aware during daylight hours. I might have been confident that none would occur in the waning mileage along CSXT east of Cumberland, but (ouch!) we did get a 15 minute delay at Okonoko, West Virginia, for a westbound freight.
We were on number 1 track at that point, and we remained on that track (nominally the westbound track) between there and Hobbs, West Virginia, including the portions east from Miller, West Cumbo and Martinsburg, which require DTC blocks and restricted speed through the interlockings. It was somewhat of a rarity for #30 to operate such a lengthy distance on number 1 track, and this caused us further delay.
We arrived in Washington at 5:17 p.m., two hours and 37 minutes late.
This concluded my 2000 Amtrak adventure to West Glacier. It was, as always, most enjoyable, lateness notwithstanding. And the meals were superb! Yes, Amtrak really is the way to go!
For the past several years I have been taking one trip a year. When the time comes for me to retire from the railroad (it'll be soon!), I'll plan on taking as many as four trips a year - one during each season. Now that's something to look forward to. The only problem will be in thinking of places to go...