Amtrak Loses $1.1-Billion in 2001
Amtrak lost $1.1-billion in 2001. Passenger revenue grew 26.1 percent, but expenses grew at an even greater rate. While Congress is preparing to debate the company's future and its mandate to become free of operating subsidies by December 2 of this year, Amtrak has announced that without an appropriation of $1.2-billion, long-distance service will be discontinued at the end of September. In the meantime, Amtrak has announced the layoff of 300 managers and 700 union employees, and a cutback in capital improvements. Company president George Warrington intends to ask Congress to decide whether Amtrak is a "public service" or a for-profit corporation. "We cannot be all things to all people," he said at a news conference.
CSX Reports 4th Quarter Results
CSX Corporation reported net income of $65-million or 31 cents per share for the fourth-quarter of 2001, up from $54-million or 26 cents per share a year earlier. Excluding the after-tax expense of $37-million or 17 cents per share for the proposed settlement of litigation filed against the company following a 1987 tank car fire in New Orleans, income for the quarter was $102-million or 48 cents per share.
Norfolk Southern Reports 4th Quarter Results
Norfolk Southern's fourth-quarter profit was $115-million or 30 cents per share, compared with $5-million or one cent per share for the same period a year earlier. The company said freight volumes had fallen one percent, but coal shipments were strong.
Canadian National Raises Quarterly Dividend
Canadian National has raised its quarterly dividend on common stock to 21.5 cents (C) from 19.5 cents. The company reported fourth-quarter net income was $296-million (C) compared to $237-million in the same period a year earlier. CN's acquisition of Wisconsin Central this past October added $17-million to the quarter's results, according to a news report.
BNSF Donates Abandoned Right of Way in Missouri for Trail
Burlington Northern Santa Fe has donated 5.8 miles of an old right of way near Springfield, Missouri, to Ozark Greenways for use as a hiking and biking trail. The line had not been used for service in more than five years. The trail will be used to connect Springfield with the Frisco Highline Trail, a right of way which BNSF had previously donated.
Rail Corridors Proposed in Texas
Texas governor Rick Perry has proposed a $175-billion, 4000-mile network of "tool roads" and rail corridors next to current interstate highways. The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor would rely on a combination of public and private financing, and would include tracks for both high-speed passenger and freight service.
Edward Jordan Dies
Edward Jordan, the first chairman and chief executive of Conrail, died on December 26. He was 72.
By Amtrak to Portland, Oregon
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
Here I go again! Another Amtrak adventure - my third within the past 12 months. (Retirement certainly is great...)
Portland was chosen because (1) I had never been there, and (2) it gave me a good excuse to go someplace in the winter. It is, after all, a wonderful time to travel - to experience the pristine beauty of nature in its most peaceful setting (and to do so when the trains are the least crowded).
A more subtle reason for taking an Amtrak trip is that the future of long-distance trains is in doubt. "Have fun - sounds like it may be your last ride," wrote one of my contacts. At issue, of course, is the matter of funding to keep the trains running. Stay tuned on this one. But one thing is for certain: The best way to show one's support for Amtrak is to patronize it. This is especially true in the winter when the company is in need of all the passengers it can get. The powers that be may or may not find the justification to keep this national treasure in business, but public support is the best solution if it is to happen.
My day of departure was Monday, January 14. Routing was as follows: Washington to Chicago via #29, Capitol Limited; Chicago to Portland via #27, Empire Builder; returning same route on #28 and #30. Accommodation was provided in the sleeper (standard bedroom) the entire way.
An ominous sign of great concern prior to the trip was the conspicuous absence of the Sightseer Lounge on #29 three of the last four times I had seen the train pass through Brunswick. Those were on January 4-5 and 11-12. (I was there on those occasions while working my PTI job.) "Oh, bother," said I, as I wondered if this feature would evade me on my upcoming adventure. Surely, not having the panoramic perch to wile away the time en route would be a real bummer. I even asked an expert on such matters, with the discouraging response that a number of the lounges were being shopped, with no immediate plans to restore them to service. (Cash flow issues - concentrate on the other stuff first, etc., etc.)
I connected from Baltimore to Washington on an Acela Regional, thereupon checking into what is now called the "Club Acela" (renamed at Northeast Corridor stations that have them from Metropolitan Lounge). It was a mostly clear day, almost spring like, and I wandered over to the U.S. Capitol for a look around, returning to the lounge just a tad bit too late to join in the processional to the train. No problem, though, as they arranged a special escort just for me.
Along the way, I noticed that a Sightseer Lounge was indeed included in the consist (right on!), and this put my mind at ease, at least for this leg of the trip. Following our on-time departure, I made my way to the lounge before the train had even reached Fort Totten, and for a while, I was its only patron. And with no prompting required, I made it a point to give my customary toast to the PTI van assembly area at Brunswick - and then, not more than 50 yards away from me, as we passed WB Tower, I spotted van 8413 (the one I usually drive) as it meandered by going the other way. That really made my day!
Once it had gotten dark, I made my way through the coach portion of the train. Including those in the lounge, and those in the upper level of the coaches, I counted 53 passengers.
For dinner (last call) I enjoyed Prime Rib, and I was joined at the table by a gent from Westchester, New York, en route to Denver.
The following morning, Tuesday, I awoke in Toledo, Ohio. It was overcast. The passenger count had increased overnight; I heard that there were now about 70 in the coaches and 28 in the sleepers. A very light snow was falling as we rounded the wye in Chicago to cut off the rear end mail and express cars, and when we came to our final stop in Chicago we were 22 minutes early. (That's right - early!)
The Great Hall, into which I went to pay proper homage, was still adorned with Christmas decorations, and the large flags which had been displayed from the balconies on my September trip were no longer there. Meanwhile, a phalanx of shipping crates sat outside the Amtrak Intercity offices in the mezzanine of the Jackson Boulevard side of the station; I being told that the offices were being vacated in favor of space elsewhere in the neighborhood.
I then looked at the monitors to see how the other trains were running. Wonder of wonders - all of the inbound Western trains were marked up to arrive on-time! ALL of them! In fact, none of the other trains were late either. (I don't EVER recall seeing THAT happen.)
The Metropolitan Lounge - the refuge in Chicago for sleeping car passengers - slowly began to fill. To this I was pleasantly surprised, not expecting that business would be that brisk in the midst of winter. On the other hand, the lounge is only large enough to accommodate a moderate number of guests; at times of peak demand, it often overflows with folks having to stand around or sit on the floor for lack of sufficient seating space.
The train left Chicago right on time. My sleeper - the one to Portland - was on the rear of the train. The other sleeper - en route to Seattle - was on the front (behind the crew car). Sandwiched between the two sleepers were: the diner, a handicap coach, a smoking coach, the Sightseer Lounge, a baggage coach and a handicap coach. This meant (for me) having to make a rather lengthy walk to the diner (but probably I needed the exercise anyway). The rear portion of the train from the lounge on back represented the Portland section, to be split from the forward portion at Spokane, Washington.
I made my way to the lounge in short order, noting that the landscape was devoid of snow until we entered Wisconsin. While in the lounge, I met a young fellow from Korea who was returning from a visit to New York, Baltimore and Washington while on break from studies (of English) in Vancouver, B.C. Once it got dark, I returned to my room to await last call for dinner, and from my darkened room I looked upon the snow-swept terrain as the train sped its merry way into the night. What a wonderful way to travel!
They made my dinner call, and I thundered my way forward, there to partake of the Porterhouse Steak (absolutely delicious, A-OK) topped off (this one time, only) with the richness of Amtrak's famous Turtle Pie. At the table I was joined by a lady en route to Staples, Minnesota (near Lake Woebegone, she said), another lady en route to Portland, and a chap from England who was touring the U.S. with a very favorable impression of Amtrak. Our trains are "much better organized" than those of his country, he said, adding that British trains don't always run on-time either.
Wednesday dawned mostly cloudy with flurries, but with but only a little snow on the ground as we sped across the wonderful state of North Dakota, having breakfast while we dwelled in Minot. By the time we crossed into Montana, it had cleared. It was 17 degrees in Wolf Point, according to a bank sign near the depot.
At the beginning of lunch we entered a brief snow squall, I being joined in the diner by a couple from Minot en route to Havre. It had been a very mild winter so far in the Northern Plains, they said, adding that temperatures had topped out in the 50's in Minot several days earlier. I related to them my own visit to Minot in 1992, recalling the pleasure of seeing the restored one-room schoolhouse on display at the city's Pioneer Village. The wife laughed as she explained that she had been a teacher at such a one-room school many years earlier - but only for a couple of weeks. It seems she gave it up because she had to sleep at the school overnight, as it was so remote, and the place had mice! She added that there are still a few one-room schools functioning in especially remote areas.
We took the siding at Harlem, Montana, to await passage of the eastbound Empire Builder, which was announced to us. Then, in a flash, it zoomed past at 79 miles per hour - and then we were back on our way.
During our stop in Havre, Montana - a service stop during which passengers may detrain - I noticed a group of U.S. Border Patrol agents on and about the train. They even accompanied the Korean fellow I had met earlier back onto the train from the platform, presumably to check his papers. It seems this is now a routine happening at Havre. Although we never cross the border, our close proximity to it makes the Empire Builder a sometimes route for illegal aliens who make their way south from Canada and then onto the train for further travel east or west. At times the agents use dogs - to sniff out drugs or whatever - and have even been known to ride the train between stops, according to on-board staff members who have seen it happen.
West of Cut Bank, Montana, it got dark, and from my right-side darkened room I looked out upon the plains, deserted save for a distant cluster of lights, straight as a ruler, dancing along the horizon. They gave the appearance of a line of traffic on a busy road, or a runway with an inordinate number of lights, and they glowed for many minutes without discernible difference as we approached them from afar. They were the lights of Browning, Montana, and the illusion was due to the way the railroad approaches the place and the fact that the line never gets into the heart of town. Browning, the headquarters of the Blackfeet Nation, is a seasonal stop for the Empire Builder (in warmer months the train stops at East Glacier instead), and we made our stop at its lonesome station with a single vehicle (a van) to convey whoever boarded or detrained.
I recognized East Glacier (Glacier Park station) and the Glacier Park Lodge as we passed without stopping. This had been my Amtrak destination in June 1998. In the summer this is a beehive of activity; now it is a place in sleepy hibernation. I stayed sequestered within my darkened room as we ascended the mountain to Marias Pass, and then to dinner. I was joined once again by the gent from England, and from the menu I chose the Chicken. Also, I enjoyed a glass of wine, and then another. I wanted a third glass, too, but when they had only enough wine left to half fill the glass, I got that one gratis.
Early the next morning, Thursday, I awoke and made my way to the Sightseer Lounge. By now our train had been separated from the Seattle section, and with us no longer having a dining car, breakfast (such as it was) consisting of a ham & cheese croissant sandwich, cut fruit, yogurt and beverage, was made available in the lower level of the lounge. I was joined at the table by a couple from Madison, Wisconsin, the husband being a retired railroad maintenance worker. It was at this point that I would have preferred that the train be a little late, in order to view more of the area in daylight - but, alas, we were exactly on-time.
Our train now consisted of one locomotive and four passenger cars, the lounge being the first car behind the engine, and I spent some time standing, looking forward from the front of the car over the top of the engine as we sped our way along our route next to the Columbia River. As darkness turned into dawn, it was somewhat overcast with some high fog over the river. It is a very picturesque route, something that would be better seen in the summer when the days are longer.
On my way through the train, I counted 40 passengers in the upper level of the lounge and two coaches.
We arrived at the destination, Portland, 15 minutes early.
My hotel, Vintage Plaza, is a short taxi ride (or a moderate walk) from the train station, the hotel being modernized within an old building in Portland's historic downtown district. It was here that I reviewed literature on things to do - the style I often follow (intentionally) by avoiding such research ahead of time when visiting new places. (I like surprises!) All I already knew of Portland was that it had a classic train station and a light-rail line. What I then learned anew is that it had... Streetcars... and it was to them that I opted first to explore.
Indeed, taking public transit (streetcars, or whatever) is an ideal way to explore a city. I went to the nearest stop, thereupon reading the posted fare structure and schedule, finding them ambiguous, and I simply decided to follow a couple of ladies onto the car to see what they did about paying the fare. But then, just as the car arrived, one of the ladies turned to me, asking: "Where do we pay the fare?" Oops!
Together, with the help of a local who was already aboard, we found the fare paying machine in the middle of the car, and almost falling over like bowling pins as the car accelerated around curves, I was able to get a coupon good for (I guess) a round trip. There was a coupon validation machine on the wall, too, but the local said we did not have to get the thing validated (but he even seemed unsure of this himself).
The fare system in Portland is low-key; in fact, I need not have even paid a fare at all, so long as I remained within the downtown "fareless zone."
The streetcar was modern, in no way resembling any I had ever ridden, articulated, with a pantograph, and probably what would be called a light-rail car if it were not referred to by the system as a streetcar instead. It makes a loop of the downtown area taking about an hour to complete its circuit. It crosses the light-rail line a couple of times, and even has a switch to it. I soon learned that a streetcar (which is shorter and more tightly fitted than a light-rail car) can operate on the light-rail line, if needed, but the light-rail cars cannot operate on the streetcar line because of the tightness of the curves.
Meanwhile, what lay in store was quite a pleasant surprise, and this would present itself two days later when a "vintage" trolley got put into service (more on this later).
Friday dawned overcast with a light rain (typical for Portland at this time of the year). For this occasion I plotted an idea to cover four activities within a five-hour period, to wit: (1) ride a Talgo train, (2) visit a one-of-a-kind train station, (3) ride the Coast Starlight, and (4) eat lunch in the diner. It was a no-brainer (Allen's have-fun-and-eat-lunch idea), and I bought a ticket to Olympia and back. Golly, those Portlanders have it made: They can do the same thing any day of the year (and I suppose some of them do). Such fun, and so easy...
I left on the 8:45 a.m. Cascades heading north. I found my first ride in a Talgo train to be sleek and smooth. The low-slung equipment permits increased speeds in places (speed signs along the right of way show three categories: T, P and F). Maximum speed is 79 miles per hour, but there are plans to increase this to 90 miles per hour sometime in the future, according to a crew member. The train has reserved seats, large windows, and there are TV monitors showing our position on a map, the current time, the expected time of arrival at the train's destination, the temperature, the name of the next station, and points of interest as we passed. Later, they showed a movie. It was all very classy! I sat with a nice lady from Eugene, Oregon, en route to Tacoma, Washington, who travels the route often.
The train arrived at Olympia's Centennial station 18 minutes late. (Time was short, and the station is not within walking distance of Olympia proper, so I simply stuck around at the station.)
A flashback: On my June 2000 Amtrak adventure to West Glacier, Montana, on the return trip, I met three ladies who were en route to Washington, D.C., to receive an award for their work in restoring the Olympia station. Now I got to witness the fruits of their efforts first-hand, and there on the window glass of the counter was a photo of the leader of the group accepting that award from Amtrak's president, George Warrington.
CENTENNIAL STATION . . .
[From a fact sheet furnished at the station]
Centennial Station was built by the non-profit Amtrak Depot Committee. It was opened in May 1993 after a six-year effort by citizens of Thurston County.
The old train station at East Olympia had been razed in the late 1960's and a wooden bus shelter served as Olympia's station for 20 years. The site was remote, had no public transportation, no lighting, a pot-holed gravel parking lot, and a public telephone that rarely worked.
George Barner, Thurston County Commissioner, responding to increasing public complaints, formed the Amtrak Depot Committee, made up of community volunteers, to address the issue. The group first met in April 1987 and began the search for a new site. The group was successful in having the county donate a four-acre site for the station. The first phase of the project, the access road, parking lot and the platform was paid for by a grant from the State of Washington utilizing "Stripper Well" funds obtained from gas companies which had overcharged consumers for fuel purchases during the 1970's.
The station itself was built using funds generated from private individuals and companies through the sale of engraved bricks and corporate tiles. Once sufficient revenue was generated, a project manager was hired to oversee the construction and to secure donations of services, products and labor. Approximately $100,000 was raised in cash and $300,000 in products and services. The State of Washington provided $60,000 in additional funds to install utilities.
The building was designed by architect Harold E. Dalke, who donated his work. It is 2800 square feet in size, and although designed in the manner of classic rail stations, features state of the art energy conservation and construction. The decorative corbels under the roof overhang are the only "old" construction. They were obtained from New Orleans, are made from solid cypress, are 150 years old, having been saved from houses on Cherokee Street. They were donated by individuals throughout the community.
The station features the latest in electronics that provide airline-style scheduling information to patrons and cover the platform and parking areas with video cameras. The station is staffed by volunteers during the morning, mid-day and evening. Volunteers also open the station to arriving travelers during late hours when trains are running late. No one arrives by Amtrak to Olympia to a closed station. The volunteer program, designed and run by Rich DeGarmo of the A.D.C., serves as a model for communities across the country contemplating a similar program.
Amtrak has called Centennial Station "the best new station in the country," and featured the depot on their 1993 calendar. Eight Amtrak trains per day stop at Centennial, and plans are now being made to expand the facility to handle commuter trains from Tacoma and Seattle. Centennial station is a tribute to the ability of the community to achieve any goal.
My return trip to Portland was booked aboard the southbound Coast Starlight, #11, one of Amtrak's premier trains. I had long wanted to ride it, and here was my chance. I went immediately to the diner, but it was full, so I waited in the Sightseer Lounge until a table was ready. I was joined in the diner by a couple en route to the Bay area, and by a lady transferring at Sacramento to the California Zephyr en route to Winter Park, Colorado. My menu selection was Chicken Pot Pie. As a coach passenger on this side trip, I was not afforded the same amenities as a sleeping car passenger, but I did get permission to take a peek inside the Pacific Parlour car (exclusive turf of those riding first-class) before the journey was over. Very nicely appointed, I thought.
Back in Portland, I spent the bulk of the afternoon riding the light-rail line. There are two lines - red and blue - and I rode portions of both. The trains are fast, efficient, and a superb way to see things along the way. I also found the folks in Portland to be very gracious and friendly.
Saturday, my last day in Portland, began mostly sunny, interrupted for a while by a light rain. I returned to the streetcar line, this time to ride one of their "vintage" trolleys. Portland has four vintage trolleys which (at the time of my visit) were only scheduled to operate on weekends, slotted to operate hourly between the times of conventional runs. They are actually replications, built in 1991 to resemble cars which had operated on the system between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, many years earlier. There is no fare to ride the vintage cars - which operate with a motorman and a conductor - but donations are accepted. With my donation, I was presented with a Portland Vintage Trolley pin.
I checked out of the hotel at noon, walked to Union Station, and checked into the Metropolitan Lounge. In contrast to the busy lounges in Washington and Chicago, the one in Portland was ominously quiet. In fact, I was its only patron for nearly three hours, and by train time there were only three of us. Boarding was announced, and two of us from the lounge presented ourselves at the sleeper, there being told that the train was not yet ready for us. Oops! All that was needed was a step-box, though, and after a wait of about four minutes, the wayward step-box was found, and we got aboard. Subsequently, two other patrons boarded the sleeper, and we left from Portland with all of four passengers in the car. (The count later expanded to six.)
Something I was looking forward to - at least to the extent of seeing what would be offered - was dinner. Remember, the Portland section of the Empire Builder has no diner, at least until the train links up with the Seattle section during the wee hours of the night at Spokane. So, what would we in the sleeper be given as dinner?
Well, it was a prepackaged (cold) affair consisting of five shrimps, cocktail sauce, two tomato wedges, coleslaw, pasta, lettuce, crackers & cheese, cut fruit, and a large brownie. It did not match the finer traditions of an Amtrak dinner in the diner (which I knew it would not be), but it was at least acceptable under the circumstances, perhaps even a little more so when I was offered a second dinner (this time roast beef, also cold), and then even a third one (which I declined). But the coup de grace came a little later when I was presented with a complimentary bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, evidently Amtrak's way of placating its sleeper patrons for its lack of traditional on-board cuisine. Wow!
But there was more to come... Indeed, since we had so few patrons in the sleeper, and there was an overstock of Cabernet Sauvignon (24 bottles, by my count, to be shared by only six people, some of whom didn't want any), my attendant told me to take as many bottles as I wanted - while the supply lasted. (I took just one more.)
In the meantime, while on a break between my two meals, I had ventured forward to the Sightseer Lounge. While vainly looking in the direction of the Columbia River, which in total darkness revealed only lights from its dams and whatever was in the river at the time, a young fellow - perhaps 17 - sat down and asked me where I was headed. "Baltimore," said I, not knowing if he even knew where that was. He then explained that he was in "desperate need of a ticket" to (I believe he said) St. Paul. I asked him (if really needed a ticket and didn't already have one) how he had gotten onto the train in the first place. To this he had no reply, but reiterated his need for a ticket. I then suggested that he check with the conductor to see if the next station had an agent - he could buy his ticket there... The lad then walked away without further comment. (I guess he wanted me to buy him a ticket - Ha!) Maybe he was an illegal - or a runaway - I don't know. Anyhow, police were at the next station, and he was taken away.
Sunday morning, I made it a special effort to arise early - although it was still dark in western Montana - to get to the diner by 6:30 a.m. En route to the diner (at the other end of the train) I counted on the upper level 26 passengers in the Portland coaches and 54 passengers in the Seattle coaches. I was joined for breakfast by a couple from Minnesota.
It was not too cold in Whitefish - 32 degrees by one estimate - and a sizable group of folks boarded. We left Whitefish on-time - by now it was bright enough to make out the landscape - pacing an eastbound stack train on the adjacent track for several minutes. The ground was snow-covered, the skies were cloudy. I took up my position in the Sightseer Lounge to cover this, the most scenic portion of the trip.
Our stop at West Glacier was met with no activity at all. Snow covered the platform and there were no footsteps anywhere. The place seemed devoid of life, save for an occasional vehicle on U.S. 2. (This had been my Amtrak destination in June 2000.)
Then, as we ascended into the mountains, we encountered a rather heavy snowstorm. Effortlessly our train glided along with snow blowing around in all directions. Visibility was greatly reduced, but the mountains could be faintly seen, their pristine presence untouched in Nature's realm. It was fabulous! Along the way, we were met by several freight trains, all neatly tucked away in sidings in deference to our scheduled time slot. (BNSF did a fine job clearing our route, both ways, I'm pleased to say.)
As soon as we topped Marias Pass, the snow abated, and by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain and began our run upon the Northern Plains, the sun shone through. By then, the landscape was clear - no snow on the ground.
I was having lunch in the diner when we made our service stop in Havre. Once again, Border Patrol agents were out and about. One of them came through the diner making eye contact with those who were there. A friendly nod was exchanged. It was interesting. (He was profiling folks, I guess, but I understand that with their training and experience they can pick out questionable people simply by the look on their face.)
Monday (a holiday) began cloudy, but later in the day it cleared. We departed from St. Paul on-time, and passengers in the sleepers were given two newspapers - Star Tribune and USA Today. I was joined at breakfast by a gent and his young daughter for her first-ever train ride (to the next stop, Red Wing), and by Uncas, a chap traveling from Wolf Point, Montana, to Boston, where he is majoring in library science.
The passenger count had increased somewhat - by an announcement I overheard, to 196 in the coaches - spurred by the inclusion of three tour parties boarding in St. Paul. An additional coach is often added to the Empire Builder to accommodate loading east of St. Paul, but not this time, as there was plenty of room for everyone. Still, it looked great to see so many seats occupied while earlier the train seemed so cavernous.
I went to the diner for lunch at the appointed time of 11:30, but they were not ready. So I went back to the lounge where they were showing a stupid movie. Hint: When a movie is showing, move to the middle of the car, and the sound is not so loud. Anyway, daytime movies are not very easy to watch because of the reflection on the monitor from the overhead windows.
For lunch I was joined by three fellows - Jon, Kelsy and Jesse - from Augsburg College, who had joined the train in St. Paul along with 18 others on a field trip to Chicago as part of an elective course they were taking called "I've Been Working on the Railroad." No kidding! Their instructor, Noel Petit, whom I met later, explained that it is an interdisciplinary course with four credits; the curriculum coinciding (not surprisingly) with his own interest in railroads. He is a member of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, and much of the learning had been hands-on at that location. They had also visited a Canadian Pacific dispatching center, and in Chicago they would visit rail oriented sites over a three-day period. Some, but not all, of the students were on their first Amtrak ride.
I then hit upon an idea: With my sleeper having so few patrons (and asking the attendant if it would be OK), I brought members of the class back to the sleeper for a tour of the accommodations. The attendant and I split the group, and each of the available type of accommodation (except the family room, which was occupied) got a visit to show how they functioned. Golly, that was as much fun as giving a tour of an interlocking tower (which I've done a few times in the past).
We were on-time leaving Milwaukee, but later we got stuck behind a METRA train. This is the way it always is, I was told, when the eastbound Empire Builder is on-time. Somehow the slot method of scheduling gets tanked with an on-time appearance (perhaps this is rare), and we were several minutes back when we arrived in Glenwood, Illinois. Still, thanks to padding, we were basically on-time when we arrived in Chicago. (OK, a minute late, but who's counting!)
During the layover, Uncas (whom I had met at breakfast) joined me in paying homage to the Great Hall (he understood exactly), and then we went to the top of the Sears Tower. It was a great sight - visibility was good - and we got to watch the sun set. Very impressive!
Back in the Metropolitan Lounge, I reflected upon how seamless the trip had been going. No delays, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to complain about. I was fondly looking forward to my last dinner in the diner, and the final leg of the trip.
Then came an announcement...
Passengers for #30 were asked to come to the desk. (Uh-oh!)
The train would be delayed for at least an hour, there would be no dinner in the diner, and each of the sleeping car passengers was given ten dollars toward a meal (in the station, or wherever).
I thought then, and still do, that $10 was scant compensation, but I did manage to buy a supper (such as it was) in a station sports bar for $9.57, sans beverage and dessert.
Boarding was announced, and we made our way to the sleepers. Along the way, I noted that the Sightseer Lounge was there, where it belonged, in the consist. We pulled from the station at 8:22, one hour and 42 minutes late. We then stopped to add the mail, pulling once again at 8:40.
Amtrak, for its part, did manage to fill some of the void (of not having dinner service) by inviting its passengers (gratis to those in the sleepers) to the diner for dessert and beverage. Right on!
The train's customary speed run into Indiana was interrupted for about nine minutes when we activated a dragging equipment detector (two hanging hoses, we were told), and a second delay of about eight minutes (next to Harrah's Casino Hotel) with no explanation given. By now we were about two hours behind schedule. Following dessert, I walked through the lounge and two coaches, counting only 45 passengers in their upper levels.
On Tuesday, the final day of my adventure, I awoke as we made our majestic entry into Pittsburgh. It was sunny. I noted for the first time that my sleeper was named "South Dakota." What? Amtrak does not even go into South Dakota! Oh, well! The diner was open, and would remain so until 10:30. This is in contrast to the usual arrangement with breakfast service ending about 8 o'clock - but this time the diner would remain open longer since there would be no lunch service.
At breakfast I was joined by a lady en route to Wilmington, Delaware, from Toledo.
For most of the balance of the trip I spent my time in the Sightseer Lounge, thankful that it was even in the consist for me to enjoy (who knows how long that will last!). East of Confluence, the train used the low-grade line, a rarity for passenger trains, and possibly new mileage for me! We stopped at Rockwood to change engine crews (but not the train crews), remaining there for about 10 minutes. Since the train now makes this stop in each direction, there has been some talk of making it into a scheduled passenger stop.
East of Hyndman, my eyes followed the old PRR right of way, long since abandoned, and I pondered the opportunities if it were someday made into a bike trail. (There has been talk of it, I have since been told, but there has not been much enthusiasm for the idea locally.) Leaving Cumberland, we were one hour and 35 minutes late.
We arrived in Washington one hour and 17 minutes late - not bad by historical standards. But I did get home to Baltimore on-time.
It was a great trip.
I hope I will be able to do it again... and again... and again. It's up to Congress, now!
IF YOU GO . . .
Coast-to-coast Amtrak travel is a superb way to relax, see the country, and meet people along the way. Travel in a sleeping car, with all of its amenities, is a very pleasurable experience. It is, however, somewhat pricey. My ticket for six nights on the train cost $1,452.30, complete. (The cost of sleeper space alone, exclusive of basic rail fare, was $1,158.00.) This was full-fare, not using discounts from my rail-travel privilege card, which has a number of restrictions. What I paid may or may not be the same for travel at any other time of the year, but fares are generally higher in the summer. The fare for sleeping car travel is four to five times greater than by coach, but meals to sleeper passengers are included in the fare, not by coach. For a cross-country journey, you can figure the cost of dining car meals at about $40 per day. Lesser-priced items are available in the lounge car. You can bring your own food aboard, but it must be consumed at your seat. Sleeping cars have four types of accommodations. The standard bedroom, which I used, is the least expensive. It accommodates two passengers, but it is my recommendation that it be used only by one, unless the second passenger is a child. (The room is quite small, and there will be a problem with luggage you wish to keep in the room if it is occupied by two people.) The economy bedroom of Viewliners has more room for luggage than the corresponding room of Superliners. The deluxe bedroom is more ideally suited for travel by two, but it, too, can be quite cramped. If togetherness is not a necessity, I would recommend booking two economy bedrooms rather than one deluxe bedroom; the price should be about the same. The handicap bedroom accommodates two people and has somewhat more space than the deluxe bedroom, but its use is reserved for (at least one) disabled passenger(s) unless it is the only thing available at or near train-time. The family room (not available in Viewliners) has space for two adults and two (not very tall) children. The deluxe bedroom and handicap bedroom have sink, toilet and shower facilities (the economy bedroom of Viewliners also has a sink and toilet, but not in a separate annex); patrons of other spaces make use of facilities, including shower, elsewhere in the car. Remember, sleeping rooms will not be the same as a hotel room. Amtrak offers family fares, and at different times of the year it has promotions, such as two-for-one fares. "Leapfrogging," the practice of booking sleeper space only at night and coach space during the day, may help to reduce the bite of long-distance travel cost. If you can be flexible in your itinerary, some days of travel may cost less than others, even within the same week, so it may pay to take the time to check. For further information call Amtrak at 800-USA-RAIL, or log onto www.amtrak.com.