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My Winter 2005 Amtrak Adventure

By Allen Brougham

[Published in the February 2005 issue of the Bull Sheet]

It has become my tradition to spend time Amtraking in the winter. Riding at this time of year has some wonderful advantages: The trains are generally less crowded, rates are usually lower, and it does not interfere with the activities I so much enjoy at home in the warmer months. Moreover, unlike in the summer, space is often available on very short notice. So the time was once again at hand to experience the true pleasure of travel by the finest means available, and I plotted my itinerary to partake of the splendors of our great land.

My 'window of opportunity' was established for the period beginning January 10 and ending January 19, with an added day as a buffer at the end to accommodate a service interruption along the way. Further disruptions beyond that time would not have caused the world to stop turning, but I really did want to be back by the 20th. Accordingly, I planned my adventure with an element of probability in mind, and for this I referred to the statistical analysis I had faithfully developed each month - and published in the Bull Sheet - since early last spring pertaining to the service reliability of Amtrak's seven major host carriers. The results were unambiguous - trains hosted by BNSF offered the greatest probability of success in making needed connections, etc., and UP offered the least. Still, things could happen, especially in the winter, and I would caution anyone planning cross-country travel to be flexible and not to plan specific activities based upon a presumptive timely arrival, regardless of the host carriers involved. Think of it as what it is - an 'adventure.'

Most of my itinerary offered (for me) little in the way of new mileage, but I really did want to ride the Lake Shore Limited out of New York on its earlier schedule, and to ride the Coast Starlight on its southward run to cover the portion I had missed (due to a service disruption) by riding it northward last year. I yearned, too, to relive the marvelous experience of the Pacific Parlour car - Amtrak's finest of the fine - while there was still time to do it. Is the Pacific Parlour car endangered? Hopefully, no. But I didn't want to miss the chance - just in case!

It was a Sunday when I called Amtrak to book my trip: BAL-NYP; No.49 NYP-CHI; No.7 CHI-SEA; No.11 SEA-LAX; No.4 LAX-CHI; No.30 CHI-WAS; and finally, WAS-BAL. (I would spend one night each in Seattle and Los Angeles.)

Now for some nomenclature: The economy bedroom - later named standard bedroom - is now called a 'Roomette.' Things have now come full circle. This is what the room had been called in the old Pullman days. That Amtrak added a second, upper berth to the room, which brought with it a different name, it is essentially the same thing. Roomettes are available in both the Viewliners and Superliners, although the ones in the Viewliners have more overhead space than do the Superliners, and those in the Superliners lack in-room plumbing. Coincidentally, I would not recommend a roomette for more than one person, unless one is a child, as space is severely limited. Even with one passenger, there is scarcely room for one's luggage. Anyway, I booked a roomette on trains 49, 7, 11, 4 and 30, opting for coach seats BAL-NYP and WAS-BAL.

I made my reservation - even requesting specific room numbers - and everything appeared to be in order... until I said I wanted to redeem Amtrak Guest Rewards points toward part of the payment. Oops... I would need to book the redemption portion through the Guest Rewards office, I was told. And that office is closed on Sundays!

So I let the reservation stand as it was, intending to call the Guest Rewards office the following day to complete the payment arrangement, which I did. Then things began to get really complicated... I could redeem enough points to cover two zones of my trip in one direction, but I would need to establish a second reservation number. To do this, the affected portion of my original reservation would have to be voided. And since one of the zones began midway in my first night of travel - at Toledo, Ohio - I would end up with essentially a ticket from New York to Toledo, and a second ticket from Toledo to Chicago. Sure, that would be OK, I said, so long as I could stay undisturbed in the same accommodation (arrival into Toledo 4:56 in the morning). It's a good thing I mentioned this, as it developed, because the new reservation - the one covered by my guest rewards redemption - found me in not just a different room, but even in a different car! Oops!

To remedy this, I would have to talk with the office I had originally booked my travel. But the matter of having two different spaces - one from New York to Toledo, and the other from Toledo to Chicago - could only be resolved if both agents were on the line with me together. It seems each office was using a separate database, and neither agent could make changes to the other's input. The Guest Rewards agent did try and connect me with the other agent, but the three-way hookup, with the Guest Rewards agent included, failed. When the other agent then attempted to reconnect us with the Guest Rewards agent, that office had closed for the evening...

So I called back the following day - in the middle part of the day, just to be safe - and in a more successful attempt to establish a three-way contact, the reservation got satisfactorily completed. Payment for the travel using my guest rewards redemption covered the portion TOL-CHI-SEA-LAX, and by credit card I paid for the remaining portions BAL-NYP-TOL and LAX-CHI-WAS-BAL. Whew!

I understand the need for a separate accounting to satisfy payment requirements, but I do not believe that the customer should have to wrestle with a quirky arrangement by having to go through two different offices to achieve a single objective. Traveling by Amtrak is an adventure. Making an adventure of trying to book that travel is not what I had in mind!

The day of the trip arrived, and I dutifully paid 'homage' to the main waiting room at Baltimore's Penn Station. Paying homage to distinctive train stations has long been my tradition, and it would continue throughout the trip. While waiting for the train to New York, I asked an Amtrak policeman if there had been any progress in converting the upper floors of the building into a stylish hotel. Back in mid-2001, a developer had been selected to convert 72 rooms of the second through fourth floors for this purpose. Evidently, the plan has been scrapped, he said. Too much abatement was required (asbestos, etc.), and other ideas for use of the space are currently pending.

The journey to New York was enjoyed in the quiet car, and I made my way to Club Acela upon my arrival. First-class patrons are afforded plush refuge while they await outbound trains at ten key locations nationally. Club Acela is what the place is called in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Others - in Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Portland, Raleigh and St. Paul - are known by the name Metropolitan Lounge. Amenities include coffee, soft drinks, juice, and (sometimes) snacks.

An announcement was made for train 49, the Lake Shore Limited, but we had to wait several minutes to allow passengers to board train 291, the Ethan Allen Express, sharing the same platform. I then made a very interesting 'discovery.' Train 291 was scheduled to leave New York just five minutes ahead of us - going in the same direction, on the same 141-mile route toward Albany - and would be making five stops along the way. The Lake Shore Limited, scheduled to leave just five minutes behind the Ethan Allen Express, would only be making one of those stops. Yet, we were still scheduled to arrive in Albany behind the Ethan Allen Express - by ten minutes. (More on this later.)

On my two previous trips aboard the Lake Shore Limited, with the Hudson River on the left side of the train, my accommodation each time had been on the right side. Hopefully the laws of averages would find my accommodation this time to be on the left side - but (ha!) this was not to be the case. My room, in the sleeper Orchard View, was, once again, on the right side. (The chance of this happening three times in a row is one in eight!) But not to be disheartened, my willing car attendant allowed me to repose in a left-side room, reserved for a later boarding that evening, so I could enjoy the majesty of the Hudson River while there was still enough light to see it...

First call for dinner was at 4:30 P.M. - timed to clear the car prior to exchange of locomotives and brief head end power interruption in Albany - and I thundered my way to the dining car post haste. There were only six other people dining at the time, and I chose as my first Amtrak meal in nearly a year - Steak! To celebrate the occasion, I bought a bottle of red wine to properly complement the meal. I was joined at the table by Bill, a retired gent returning to Denver following a visit with his brother in New York over Christmas.

Our train had been making good time until we passed Poughkeepsie, but then we began to slow due to bad signals from the train running ahead of us making its many stops. This continued for awhile, sometimes returning to track speed followed by more slow running, then regaining speed, etc. Then at one point, while evidently running out the block on a restricted-proceed signal, we encountered a curve elevated for a much higher speed. The car leaned precipitously. Just then, my bottle of wine tipped over, toppling the wine glass with it upon the white linen tablecloth. What a mess!

And I knew exactly what happened. Chalk this one up to Amtrak's scheduling guru!

Here, now, is the question I have:

What is the wisdom in scheduling the Lake Shore Limited No.49 to leave New York five minutes behind the Ethan Allen Express No.291? In fact, No.291 stops at four stations that No.49 skips en route to Albany, so No.49 gets delayed with numerous bad signals as No.291 does its work ahead. I can surmise that No.291 does cleanup work for patrons boarding at Yonkers, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff and Hudson who would then connect to No.49 at Albany, since No.49 does not make those stops, but since No.49 is so close behind No.291 anyway, getting delayed while No.291 does its own work, would it not make just as much sense to let No.49 make those stops too? (This would eliminate through patrons having to change trains at Albany.) I should think, too, that No.49 could still avoid those local stops and be scheduled to leave New York about 15 minutes later than it currently does and still arrive in Albany on its current schedule. (No.291 operates as No.293 on Friday, on a different schedule, but No.255 operates that day on the very same schedule as No.291 the other days of the week, so No.49 has to follow five minutes behind that train on Friday as well.) This scheduling is rather baffling.

Lacking a more plausible answer to this question, I will conclude that whoever scheduled these trains in this manner might have last been involved in scheduling trains at the age of nine - with Lionel trains running around his Christmas tree!

Meals in the dining car are free to sleeping car patrons (actually, factored into the fare), but wine is not. When I paid for the wine, I used my credit card. (I have to accumulate my guest rewards points, you know!) Amtrak now follows an enormous protocol whenever accepting a credit card on the train. I needed to present the steward with my ticket stub (from which he could record my reservation number) as well as my driver's license. This procedure followed throughout the remainder of the trip, but only on this occasion was the driver's license required. I suppose I could have made a fuss over the little bit of wine that was spilled, but I didn't. Instead, I asked for an extra dinner roll, and it was provided.

Thus ended a not to be forgotten dinner, and a lovely sunset along the Hudson River.

That night - my only one in a Viewliner sleeper - I made it a point to sleep in the upper berth. Its window is right in line with the position of the head, and through the window from a darkened room I could faintly see the world as it flashed by across the changing landscape. What could be better than that!

I was up early the following morning. We left Toledo at 5:57 A.M., forty-one minutes late. I was there promptly as the dining car opened, and was seated with Carol, retired from AT&T, attending her very first long-distance train ride. Light snow was falling across Ohio and Indiana. Following our stop in South Bend, I ventured through the coaches and counted 121 passengers.

Nicknamed the 'Late' Shore Limited for its penchant for tardy performance, today was no exception. But being that we were only 31 minutes late upon arrival into Chicago, I would say that this was at least tolerable. And what a pleasant surprise it was to see how much the Metropolitan Lounge had been expanded. Now it is seemingly more than twice the size it had been in previous years, a vast improvement over the chaotic atmosphere I had seen earlier on transfers through Chicago when folks would sometimes have to sit on the floor for lack of space.

And, of course, I took a few moments to pay homage to the Great Hall.

My space on the Empire Builder was on the lower level, which I had requested. The lower level on Superliners sways less than the upper level, is easier for handling luggage at origin and destination, and is closer to the rest rooms. Dinner at 5 o'clock was Baked Chicken in company with a mother and her daughter traveling from Chicago to St. Paul to avoid driving in the snow, and a journalism major returning from his school break between the same locations. At bedtime the train was stopped north of Winona, Minnesota, due to switch trouble. I do not remember moving again.

The following morning I awoke as the train was snaking its way into Fargo, North Dakota, a seemingly picturesque entry beset by parks and a stately downtown area amidst a lightly falling snow. As we proceeded beyond Fargo and it became light, the snow appeared to increase in its intensity, shrouding our train on its leeward side with a cloud of blowing snow. We, the passengers, could be cozy and enjoy this display within our warm cocoon of tranquility, oblivious to the frigid conditions just inches away. Wintertime travel at its finest!

We were one hour and 37 minutes late leaving Grand Forks.

I should note, too, that our train was now on BNSF. Never mind that we were running late (BNSF had probably assumed its tardy schedule to begin with), we were now on the most Amtrak-friendly host freight carrier. I looked forward to a day of stellar performance as we crossed the Northern Plains. Once again, I had planned my itinerary to include BNSF to the extent possible, knowing that I would be in the best of hands.

For breakfast I was told that egg substitutes were unavailable, but the chef prepared me an omelet without the yolks. I was joined at the table by a couple of fellows en route to Seattle and Portland respectively.

Following breakfast, I took up station in the Sightseer Lounge. There was still room in the car, but one of the younger coach passengers had occupied the floor with his effects - including a sleeping bag and backpack - covering the space of three seats. Indeed, he had received the equivalent of a sleeping car space, without the added fare.

Just before reaching Minot the sun shone through in a brilliant glow upon the land, but this would be short lived. It was cold, too; the paper said the high for the day would be 12 degrees with a low of minus 22. The following day it would be even colder - with a predicted high of minus 20 and a low of minus 31. Brrrr!

At Minot there was an Amtrak dining car parked on a siding just east of the station. I'm told it was set out due to mechanical problems by the eastbound train a day or two earlier. We were one hour and three minutes late leaving Minot, followed shortly by our majestic crossing of the Gassman Coulee. (I had been here in 1992 as an Amtrak destination, and had spent some time exploring this site with its high trestle.)

Crossing the Northern Plains by train was nothing new to me, but it is always relaxing and a pleasure to do. Regrettably, the Empire Builder's westbound schedule includes the best mountainous scenery at night. This is especially true in the winter when it gets dark long before reaching the Rockies. In June, when the days are the longest, some of the Rockies can be seen on the westward journey, but the eastbound schedule is better in all seasons.

Snow returned to the scene by the time we reached Stanley, North Dakota, and would mostly remain with us for the remainder of the day. Effortlessly we streaked through the blowing snow, and snow could be seen drifting across U.S. 2 which parallels the line much of the way. Traffic on U.S. 2 was light, moving at about half the speed of the train.

For lunch I enjoyed the Gardenburger. I was joined by a retired school principal and his wife from Chicago. With communal seating in the dining car, it is always a pleasure to meet so many interesting folks, many of whom are traveling for much the same reasons as I.

We met the eastbound section of the Empire Builder at Dodson, Montana. Then, during our service stop at Havre, members of the U.S. Border Patrol boarded the train. They asked of me, "Are you a U.S. citizen?"

I did get off the train briefly (very briefly) at Havre; it was bitterly cold with a brisk wind. The cadre of smokers who had alighted to get some puffs had huddled together to share some warmth. I believe I heard that it was minus five degrees at the time - and this was the warmest part of the day! Welcome to the Northern Plains!

For dinner I chose the Halibut. We were served with paper plates, it being explained that the water intake pipes had frozen, and they were unable to add water to the car at our last service stop. There was still enough water in the system for essentials, but not enough to clean dishes.

I stayed awake until we left from West Glacier - just to see the 'ghost town' of a community that seemingly hibernates in the winter.

I awoke early the next morning to find that we were running on time. From my darkened room I attempted to see the splendor of the terrain, and then went to the diner as it opened (paper plates again) and shared a table with a lady en route home from Browning, Montana, to Olympia, Washington. We discussed her state's close election in which their governor, who had been sworn in just the day before, had won by a mere 129 votes. (Don't ever say your vote doesn't count!) The lady was enjoying her trip, but she was concerned about having a three and one-half hour connection in Seattle before the next train to Olympia. I told her I would examine my train schedule to see if there was something better.

We emerged from Cascade Tunnel at 7:07 A.M., at which point the first hint of approaching dawn appeared against the landscape. The snow was deep, and the roads gave all the evidence that more had recently fallen. I remained in my darkened room to partake of what splendor was possible until it became bright enough to venture once again to the lounge.

We were just a tad bit late - by only a few minutes - leaving Everett and Edmonds, but due to elephantine schedule padding, it appeared likely that we would be getting into Seattle about half an hour ahead of schedule. So I sought out the lady with whom I had dined at breakfast with the encouraging news that we just might arrive with enough time for her to connect with the Coast Starlight, due to leave Seattle at 10 o'clock. Being that the Empire Builder was not due into Seattle until 20 minutes after the Coast Starlight was due to leave, it could never be counted upon as a true 'connection,' but she might be able to connect with it nevertheless - provided the conductor of that train was in a good mood and would let her climb aboard.

We arrived in Seattle 35 minutes ahead of time, and I'm happy to report that the lady en route to Olympia did catch the Coast Starlight, for which she was grateful.

It was mild in Seattle, and I walked to the hotel - the same one as I had stayed last year. Later that day I took Seattle's 'Underground' tour. The city's downtown area is built upon a landfill (much of it sawdust), and many of the original sidewalks are still accessible below the present street level with buildings now having their entryways on what had once been upper floors.

The following morning - Friday - I arrived at King Street Station just as an announcement was being made affecting passengers for the Coast Starlight. I could not understand all of what was being said, due to the acoustics, but the conductor quickly filled me in as I met him at the check-in desk. The train would only take me as far as Emeryville, California. Travel beyond that point would be at the mercy of a bus - or a train via Bakersfield and a bus, as things developed - due to track washouts along the California Coastline. My heart sank - although I was not that surprised as I had heard of heavy rains in that area as late as the day before my trip began. Anyway, I decided to make the best of it - remembering, too, that any long distance Amtrak trip is an 'adventure.'

Another 'surprise' awaited me as I learned that my assigned sleeper had been shopped. They had found space for me in another car, however - the only sleeper remaining in the consist - and a few of the overflow patrons had been given space in the crew car. So everyone was happy (especially I) as the very next car behind mine, and indeed from my newly assigned space (which was on the extreme rear of the car) was... the Pacific Parlour Car. Right on! This feature had been the pivotal point in planning my trip. Without that, the whole trip would have been a downer. Never mind that I would only enjoy the heralded Pacific Parlour Car for half its normal journey - it was there for me, and I quickly took up station within its plush interior without delay.

Much was reported on the Pacific Parlour Car from last year's trip, so I need not dwell upon its many amenities and superior service. The only way that I feel it could be improved would be to adopt the concept I have mentioned a number of times previously of a transitional-type forward-viewing dome car to operate at the very front of the passenger consist. But I feel this will not be accomplished any time soon, if at all, unless someone with influence should come up with the same idea independently. Such as it is, then, the Pacific Parlour Car is a in class by itself, and the very best that Amtrak now has to offer. Try it sometime - you will really enjoy it!

At lunch I was joined by Cal and Mary from Hawaii, and Lester from the Philippines. For dinner that evening I selected Lamb, and I was seated with Paul and Carolyn from Idaho en route to Sacramento.

Although I seldom make it a point of watching movies on the train - since they are usually dumb and interfere with the tranquility I cherish while traveling - I did watch the flick shown on the lower level of the Parlour Car, which was attended by 12 others. Watching a movie there is a singular experience.

For breakfast the following morning I got up the nerve to engage in a little Allen-type mischief: Sleeping car patrons get their meals for free - but they are required to sign their name on the meal slip along with their space number. Well, I did pen the proper space number, but I signed with the name 'Donald Duck.'

Ha! They never noticed. But what the hey, I reasoned - the worst they could do was kick me off the train. And they would be doing that to me anyway, once we got to Emeryville!

I met a couple who, too, were going through to Los Angeles. But they had been advised to get off the train at Sacramento, rather than Emeryville, and they would be taking a bus to Stockton to catch a San Joaquin train to Bakersfield, thence a bus to Los Angeles. I quickly concluded that they would be catching an earlier train that I to Bakersfield - but they would get less of a ride on the Coast Starlight... and more of a ride in a (ugh!)... bus!

Back in the Parlour Car in the waning minutes of my aborted travel, I was reading the Sacramento Bee. I came across an obituary of a third-generation Pullman car porter who had worked The Lark between San Francisco and Los Angeles. His name was Garrard Smock Jr., age 86. At one time, he, two of his brothers and their father - four from the family altogether - had worked the same train, something that had once been featured in Believe it or Not. The four are also pictured on the cover of a recent book about Pullman porters by Larry Tye.

We arrived in Emeryville 44 minutes late, and passengers disembarked to board buses, or (depending upon their destination) to the next San Joaquin train. There was some confusion due to an incorrect on-train announcement upon our arrival, but in due time I reposed to the spacious waiting room amongst some of the passengers I had met on the Coast Starlight who were also going to Los Angeles, eventually boarding train 714 to Bakersfield.

I had considered riding the San Joaquin line at some point in the future anyway, so this was my forced opportunity. I found the train to be comfortable, fast and efficient. But it was a dreary, overcast day with limited visibility.

The train arrived 11 minutes late into Bakersfield, and Los Angeles passengers were directed to a bus that would make a stop at Glendale prior to Los Angeles. After about 25 minutes of transferring folks and their luggage, we were on our way. Our driver announced that we would be detouring via Tehatchapi due to road construction along the regular route. The most scenic part of the trip began in the mountains outside of Bakersfield, but by then it was almost dark. What could be seen was a plethora of windmills, and glimpses of a freight train ascending the grade next to the highway. We arrived in Los Angeles at 7:34 P.M., nearly an hour and a half earlier than we would have had the Coast Starlight run its own route (if it had been on time). My hotel was an easy walk from the station, and after settling in I returned to the station for dinner at Traxx Restaurant, located in the main concourse.

The following day I had loads of time to kill, and I walked several miles. I visited the site of the Angel's Flight Railway, closed 'for several months of repairs' (according to the notice in the window, dated February 2001). Also I stopped by the main library to take a peek at things on the internet. I discovered that my Empire Builder's timely arrival into Seattle three days before was an anomaly; the other four days out of five the train was late, and on the day following my arrival it was late by about six hours. Cold weather in the Northern Plains, no doubt, had taken its toll.

Back in the station for the evening's departure of the Southwest Chief, I met Tim and Maartje, rail advocates who would be going to Washington to attend the Inauguration and to deliver a message insisting that the government properly fund Amtrak. They would later be joined by about seven others. They had statistics showing the average BTU consumed per passenger mile by five modes of travel of 2,138 for train (the lowest) and 4,591 for SUV (the highest). For entertainment along the way they had planned yoga and karaoke sessions.

The train was delayed being boarded due to late arrival and servicing of the westbound train, and we finally got under way at 8:10 P.M., one hour and 25 minutes late. We experienced further delay of about half an hour near Fullerton due to a traffic accident blocking a grade crossing. Dinner was served at 9 o'clock, for which I chose Steak, and there would be no dessert due to the late hour. I was joined by a couple originally from Jamaica.

I spent much of my time the following day within the comfort of the Sightseer Lounge marveling, once again, at the operational efficiency of BNSF. Indeed, I counted at least four occasions when high-priority intermodal trains, moving in the same direction as we, were stopped in order for us to get around.

For lunch I tried the Jambalaya in company with two young fellows en route to Chicago and a retired gent from San Diego en route to New York.

We were about an hour late arriving in Albuquerque, finding the station area still in the process of construction. The train depot is as it had been two years prior, but the area just west of the depot is a giant hole in the ground, destined to become a new Greyhound station.

Dinner call was at 5:30 P.M. and I enjoyed the Baked Chicken special. The portion of our journey up, through and down Raton Pass was especially enjoyable with a half moon shining overhead reflecting diligently upon the snowy landscape.

The evening brought with it a special treat... The group of rail crusaders had reserved the upper level of the Sightseer Lounge car for karaoke, an event I attended and eventually (why not!) was a participant. OK, so I never got a contract to sing with the Met (for which we may all be grateful) but it was a lot of fun!

Arising early in the morning I discovered that we were running on time, and we actually arrived Kansas City 15 minutes in advance (thank you, BNSF). It was quite chilly in K.C., and I donned my jacket and ventured into Union Station to pay appropriate homage. There, within the massive confines of the barely lit former train concourse, I wandered alone where once there would have been hundreds. It was very uplifting.

For breakfast I met Jerry, a psychology professor from St. Cloud, Minnesota, who had once performed a magic act on stage with Garrison Keillor. We sped across the flyover bridge and then into the flat country, and by 9:30 A.M. they began showing a movie in the lounge car. I endured it, having already seen it before, but I wish the sound were not so loud.

Meanwhile, in the sleeper adjacent to mine, all of the toilets were out of service. The retention tanks were full, I was told, so their patrons were directed to our car (which thankfully had no such failure).

I was joined at lunch by a lady originally from Mississippi en route to Toledo to visit her sister. She very much liked Illinois as it reminded her of her home state.

We were 35 minutes ahead of schedule arriving in Chicago. I led the delegation of rail advocates to the Metropolitan Lounge - since they were not familiar with the routine - and we found utter chaos with but one staffer at the desk and one Red Cap at the baggage area while two outbound trains were being loaded at the same time as our patrons were arriving. There is no easy fix, to be sure, as various levels of activity can make the place bedlam at one extreme or complete tranquility at the other. Indeed, 20 minutes after our arrival, things in the lounge did settle down peacefully.

I explained to the delegation my appointed duty to pay a visit to the Great Hall, and they collectively followed me to share in the experience. (The tradition gathers momentum!)

The Capitol Limited was announced for a (barely) on time departure, but we were told, once aboard, that we would wait for a late connection. Then we were told we were waiting on crews' rest, evidently ending at exactly 5:52 P.M. In any event, we left two minutes after that time, 19 minutes late.

For my final dinner on the train - likely my final dinner for about a year - I chose (what else!) Steak. My table partners were three members of a tour group from Chicago (others were elsewhere in the diner) en route to the Inauguration. Following dinner, there was another karaoke session in the lounge car. I attended for a while, but did not participate.

We made an acceptable run through the night, and when I awoke early we were sitting in Pittsburgh. It was snowing rather moderately as we made our way eastward, and we were 26 minutes late leaving Connellsville. Indeed, we might even have been able to reach Washington on time, but fate interceded. With snow now coming down rather heavily (the first significant snow event for the area this season), we arrived at 12:45 P.M. at the site of former QN Tower, just outside of Washington, 21 minutes after we were due to arrive into Washington itself... with switch trouble!

Well, this dashed any hope I had of catching the 1:05 P.M. train to Baltimore.

Now those of you who have been readers of the Bull Sheet long enough to know, I worked at that location for six months back in 1992, until QN Tower closed. And here, for the next hour, we sat.

This, then, dashed any hope I had of catching the 2:05 P.M. train to Baltimore.

Finally, with the switch still unable to be operated to get us into the station the conventional way, we proceeded east around the wye and then backed into the station. This added even more time to our delay, as backing into the station takes far greater time than moving forward, and when we arrived at 2:06 P.M., we were one hour and 42 minutes late.

This may come as some comfort, though, as throughout the trip this was the latest arrival I had had at any of my connection points. And while I missed the 2:05 P.M. train to Baltimore, I did barely make connection with the 2:15 P.M. MARC train instead. End of adventure!