Amtrak Trip Report
by Dale Jacobson
If it's winter, it's time for me to get out of the D.C. area for some time. I don't do well in cold air, and prefer my winters balmier. So, on January 9, 2017, I left on the Capitol Ltd. for Chicago on my way west to Sacramento, CA. As usual I had a sleeper to Chicago. Not as usual I used Amtrak Guest Reward points to cover the cost of the entire trip out as well as the entire trip back home. We left pretty much on time, which after boarding from the Acela Lounge gave me ample time to get off and take photos of anything interesting. The train itself wasn't of much interest so I settled on photographing a VRE commuter train coming into the station from Ivy City as it passed near my train.
The train was still large enough to need two units. The sleepers were behind the baggage car with the diner/lounge and obsy/lounge cars following and then the coaches. Guess the holiday rush wasn't quite over. Even so, the dining area and cafe lounge were in the same car. Thanks to double stops at both Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg we were running a bit late when we finally pulled into Cumberland. I was having dinner in the diner when we departed. We were going uphill at the usual speed, but as we neared Mance we stopped so a long eastbound freight could pass us. Guess the Sandpatch tunnel wouldn't handle both trains safely. Otherwise, I'm not sure why we had to wait. Anyhow, we waited awhile and then this truly long freight passed. I couldn't count cars, but it seemed to take about 10 minutes to pass. That may have been as much due to going slowly as to its length.
By the time we reached Pittsburgh we were about one hour behind schedule, but during the night we made up some of the time. Norfolk Southern (NSC) dispatching has gotten better, but fewer trains running likely helped as well. We would likely have pulled into Chicago ahead of schedule, but as we skirted south of Michigan City, IN, we had to stop so emergency personnel could board to train to deal with a passenger having heart problems. We pulled to a stop along a side road off US #421 that runs south from Michigan City and waited until the ambulance arrived. Meanwhile, the conductor called for any medically qualified passengers to come to the diner to help. Eventually we learned the passenger was all right and able to continue to Chicago. Alas, the day was dreary and quite gray as we passed by CN's Elgin, Joliet & Eastern (EJ&E) main yard in Gary, IN, and the steel mills in the Burns Harbor and along the shore of Lake Michigan. It wasn't worth taking any photos.
We arrived in Chicago about an hour late. That didn't bother me as my next train didn't depart until 2 PM. Meanwhile, I got myself acquainted with the new Metropolitan Lounge that has replaced Amtrak's former First Class lounge area in Chicago Union Station. This new lounge is located just before entering the Great Hall from the main station area. Amtrak is now using the Great Hall for boarding virtually all of its coach passengers, thus freeing folks from the cramped quarters of the former passenger waiting area.
The Great Hall is undergoing renovations. One section that was at one time the women's lounge is being converted into a special area called the "Burlington Room." It is being restored to its original appearance, before it became the women's lounge. It was not open to the public when I was there. Another area where the Metro Grill and Bar used to be is being turned into a shopping area. That's not yet opened either.
As for the Metropolitan Lounge it's not quite finished, even though it's been open for about a year. Amtrak seems to be trying its best to make for a pleasant layover for its sleeping car/business class travelers. As usual there are free soft drinks, coffee, and tea. Besides the packages of snacks similar to those found in D.C.'s Acela Lounge vegetables and other finger foods are sometimes available. There is an area offering free WIFI close to where snacks and beverages are served. What was most amusing (for the lack of a better term) to me was the wine tasting and cheese pairings. Every day at 12:30 PM Amtrak has some staff pour four wines for travelers to sample. Well, you get to sample any two of the four. A bit disconcerting is that to get the cheese with which to pair the wines you have to stand in the line where the other finger foods are also then being served. I'd suggest getting the cheese first and then figuring out which wine(s) might go best with them. Now all Amtrak has to do is label the cheese types.
I talked with the wine pourers. They told me they have been pouring the same four wines since they started doing this about a month or so earlier. Two are dry wines - a red and white. The other two are sweeter wines. Being a dry wine drinker I tried the Pinot Grigio and Malbec. When you get your first sample, they give you a ticket to come back for the second sample. The samples are generous; the two are about a full glass of wine.
The lounge is multi-storied. The top level is what's called "The Pennsylvania Room." It's really two rooms with their own TV's and train monitors. The one room has a large photo of a PRR T-1 with some executives standing next to it to show just how large the engine was. In the other room there are a series of PRR photos taken around Chicago Union Station during the steam era. One is of a streamlined K4 with a 1930-ish automobile next to it. I wonder how much the auto was damaged getting it onto the track next to the train (Broadway Ltd.?)
For lunch I went to the Food Court and got a small order of bourbon chicken from the Cajun Grill. Amtrak won't let you bring outside food into the Metropolitan Lounge area itself, but there are comfortable chairs just inside the main entrance you can use. This area is just before you go into the main part of the Lounge itself. You can also go into the Lounge to get a soft drink or other beverage to go with what you've bought. They want you to show your ticket when you do leave the lounge, but you can go into the temporary storage area to get your ticket and show them and then return it to your bag before going back into the lounge proper. This new storage area is self-serve so you no longer have to wait for a Red Cap to be present to get your bags or give you access to them. There are also bathrooms in this "outer" area. The new lounge is full of bathrooms with one set even in the "Pennsylvania Room" area.
All in all it was a nice place to wait until my next train departed. All I had to do was figure out where I was headed. The answer to that question will be found in the second trip report.
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As you likely remember, starting in early January California was finally blessed with a series of rainstorms and snowstorms that would break the drought the state has been undergoing. At least initially that was what happened in Northern California ("Northern" being defined as virtually everything "north" or east of San Francisco). After a second series of storms much of the rest of the state was relieved of any extreme drought conditions although a few areas remained defined as still in a drought (just not extreme or severe). The reports had said that no trains were getting through to the West Coast due to over 7 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as well as due to rockslides. I-80 was also reportedly closed. So, I was not surprised when I looked on the arrival and departure boards and found that the inbound California Zephyr for that day (1/10) had been canceled. I was relieved to find that the westbound California Zephyr had NOT been canceled, but its "final destination" was given as Reno, NV. Just what would happen to us once we reached Reno was unknown.
By then the blockage was a few days old, and some Amtrak personnel told me they expected the line to be reopened "soon." We boarded our train still unsure of where those of us going west of Reno would end up. We left Chicago on time. This time the sleepers were on the rear with the coaches up front with the dining car and obsy/lounge separating them. The trip west along the former BN (former Chicago Burlington & Qunicy, CB&Q) triple track line to Aurora was as fun and interesting as ever even on a gray and foggy day. We stopped a few extra minutes at Naperville (now one of the largest cities in Illinois), but were pretty much on time getting into Galesburg. As we departed I gazed out at what could be seen of the campus of Knox College where I spent 4 years getting a piece of paper I now have no idea as to where it's at.
We crossed the Mississippi River while it still could be seen, but by the time we left Burlington it was dark. Perhaps that was for the best as there's not much left to what once were the CB&Q's West Burlington Shops. You pass that former shop complex once you are atop "Burlington Hill" on which George Weestinghouse tested his original air brake that soon was in use by all RR's. I once rode a steam fantrip from Chicago to that spot behind 4-8-4 #5632 to celebrate its 20th (I think) birthday. There was this huge birthday cake that was served after the engine burst through a paper banner with "happy birthday" or something like it on it. The crowd of fans shoved towards the cake, virtually pushing me almost into it [I weighed perhaps 100 pounds at the time]. At least I got my unfair share of chocolate birthday cake. We were long by the shell of the shop building by the time I finished thinking about this former trip, plunging through the darkness towards our stop at Mt. Pleasant.
We arrived at the Denver Transportation Center early. Thank goodness!!! How it has changed in the three years since I was last there. Now, many of the light rail electric lines terminate here as well. I had only to step off my sleeper to start photographing these new, to me, multiple-unit trains. Calling them "light rail" may be a misnomer as they have pantographs to draw electricity. My knowledge about light rail equipment is woefully inadequate, in large measure because I really don't care. I have enough trouble trying to figure out what to call each new type of diesel that come from the various builders, especially when the RR's all now seem to want to call the things by different designations. I also found the Amtrak run Ski Train there. It had Amtrak Superliner coaches with F40PH #406 in heritage paint on one end and heritage painted P42 #156 on the other. I had to wait until we departed before I could see what the headend power on the Ski Train was as that train was parked next to ours.
The trip up the Front Range was as usual a joy, going through tunnel after tunnel once you've gone around the Big 10 Loop. At this point there was no snow on the ground, but for me that's fine as I'm not a fan of snow. I had met a couple ethnic Chinese women from New Jersey at breakfast. The younger woman was taking her mother on a trip to San Francisco where'd they stay a couple days before flying back home. They ran a Chinese restaurant in new Jersey and didn't want to leave Pop running the place alone for too long. As this was there first train trip I tried to point out different points of interest as we ascended the Rockies. Fortunately, the obsy car was filled with other well traveled folks, including some who lived in Denver, who were able to be better tour guides than myself.
We bored through Moffat Tunnel and found the Winter Park area chock full of snow and skiers. After leaving Estes (stop for Rocky Mountain National Park) we started through the series of canyons for which this trip is known, beginning with Byers. We hadn't met any trains until we neared the junction with the line to Craig, CO, at Bond. From then on we ran into a series of freights (mostly BNSF's) as well as the eastbound Reno Zephyr. West of Glenwood Springs it's almost a pleasure to see more wide open spaces. The expanse remains until you go through De Beque Canyon about a half hour before arriving at Grand Junction.
Grand Junction is no longer the RR center it was during the days of the Denver & Rio Grande RR (DRGW). The hump yard still sees some activity, but nothing compared to years ago. What was more startling was the long lines of stored locomotives, virtually all yard or local freight power. If you've been wondering where UP's GP15-1's have gone, the answer is likely Grand Junction. I couldn't begin to count them all, but I estimated there were at least 100. There were also a number of GATX and HLCX GP38 leased units, too. We were early into Grand Junction so the little store next to the station got lots of business from Amtrak passengers looking for something besides lounge car food or beverages (and at lower prices). After we left it was through another brief stretch of ho-hum scenery before we went through the wider Ruby Canyon and into Utah. By Thompson, UT, it was getting dark, but the sunset was quite nice and lasted until almost Green River.
It's too bad that during the short winter days you can't traverse all the mountain areas in daylight. The trip up to Soldier Summit and around the series of loops you go over as you descend the west slope are all in the dark. We arrived into Provo on time and pulled into Salt Lake City ahead of schedule. Alas, the Amtrak station in Salt Lake City is located in the middle of nowhere. As far as I can tell, none of the city's light rail lines connect there although the commuter RR serving the Salt Lake City area runs in and out of the station. A train to Provo left shortly after we arrived. Otherwise, there was not a thing stirring once passengers detrained and boarded.
But we received some good news. Our train would be going through. We'd be the first westbound passenger train over the Sierra Nevada since the snowstorm. This made watching our trip around the south end of the Great Salt Lake on former Western Pacific RR even more pleasant. Then it was time to call it a night.
Woke up the next morning near Winnemuca, NV, and soon it was snowing. It was snowing pretty good by the time we were approaching Reno. We approached Reno very slowly. Why? We had been told that thanks to the disruptions caused by the line's blockage, there was no rested crew to take our train west of Reno and there wouldn't be until about noon. That mean we'd spend three hours sitting in the trench at the Reno station stop. Except, UP, and perhaps Amtrak as well, didn't want us sitting there that long. That was understandable as the casinos in Reno may have lured too many passengers , some of whom may not have returned by the time they were supposed to. So, instead we slowed down to 10 mph for quite some time and then sat for some time. We'd slowly move some more and eventually sat for a bit in the yard at Sparks, just east of Reno. Eventually, we pulled into Reno now with only an hour or so to wait until a new crew was supposed to be ready to take us west. I'm sure those passengers getting off at Reno were quite "pleased" with this strategy. During our stay in the trench I photographed two UP eastbound freights as they passed us. I also called my rental car agency to tell them I'd pick up my car the next morning rather than that afternoon.
Some time after noon we got going again, now more than 3 hours late. The snow was falling hard and continued falling as we pulled into the Truckee station stop. It's west of Truckee that you head up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains around a very large horseshoe curve. However, it was snowing so hard you couldn't see anything. I didn't even notice when we went around the Leland Stanford curve that connects the upper and lower portions of the horseshoe, let alone any other part of the horseshoe. I didn't know we were approaching the summit until we went through the two mile long tunnel Soda Springs. It was shortly after coming out of that tunnel that we came to a stop, just east of the Norden showshed. And there we sat.
The information this time was less exact. First we were told that tracks needed to be cleared. About a half hour later along came a series of front hoes and sno cats up behind our train and then around it. We figured they would clear the way for the eastbound UP freight we had by then be told we were waiting on. So, when it passed we figured we be moving. We didn't. Later we were told that the track circuits needed to be fixed as the circuits on both tracks were indicating they were occupied when they weren't. Meanwhile, the snow is coming down fast enough so that the track behind us was now covered. Visions of 1953's stranding of the City of San Francisco danced through our heads. Eventually, another eastbound UP freight passed. Still we didn't move. At least the snowfall looked pretty. The trees were all covered in the white lace. The train was warm, and if I had wanted to, I could have spent the time getting buzzed on booze. I didn't. After awhile, a third UP freight went by us eastbound. It wasn't too long after this that we finally started moving again. It had been over 4 hours since we had stopped. We were now over 7 hours late.
The rest of the downhill trip was rather uneventful. We were told we'd be going slow due to some signal problems, but I couldn't tell that we were going any slower than usual as we descended from the summit. When we finally could see I-80 it was clear the cars and trucks had been fairing little better than we had. Traffic was at a crawl. I would be hard pressed to say which would have been faster between Reno and Sacramento - the interstate or the train. The dining car crew put together a makeshift supper for people, but it was beef stew. I have an allergy caused by tick bites that gives me hives if I now eat red meat. The dining car steward gave me some rolls instead.
We arrived in Sacramento close to 10 PM. The station platforms are some distance from the station itself so I opted to ride a passenger cart into the station rather than get lost. Had we been closer to on time I then would have simply hopped aboard the next Gold Line light rail train and headed to the stop closest to the Downtown Motel 6 at which I was staying for three nights. However, not knowing when the next light rail train would leave, and not wanting to drag my suitcase and hand carries along the dark Sacramento streets, I chose a taxi instead. My room was waiting for me, as would my rental car be the next morning. It was good to finally be where I wanted to begin my trip around California wine country.
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I arrived at the Sacramento Amtrak station/ Transportation Center with plenty of time to spare before the scheduled 10:58 AM arrival of train #6, the eastbound California Zephyr. After checking my suitcase I discovered that Amtrak has now set aside a small area within the station for sleeping car passengers. It's nothing fancy; I guess it gives Amtrak staff a better handle on just who might need a ride to the train. One thing has become quite clear - sleeping car passengers tend to be older and more White than the population at large. Coach passengers are a polyglot of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
The train was a bit late, but even so I didn't try to walk to the other end of the track platform to take a backlit photo of P40 heritage unit #822. It was on a westbound Capital Corridor train that I assume would leave later that day. The Red Cap passenger cart driver had let us off at the east end of the platform as the sleepers were this time again at the front of the train behind the baggage car. Train #701 came in from Auburn just before #6 arrived Neither had any heritage unit on it. We boarded and left Sacramento at least 30 minutes late.
The reason the train was late, and would get later, is because it was a Friday, and the first decent Friday weather wise in awhile. This meant that all sorts of folks were on board to go to either to Truckee or Reno to "enjoy" the snow. In the previous week another 3 feet of snow had fallen in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I had been worried that this new snowfall, on top of the 7 feet that had previously fallen, might once again have the RR closed down. Fortunately, this wasn't so. What would be the case is that all the way to Reno the train would be at capacity in the coaches and almost so in the sleepers. As I soon learned at lunch some people like to travel the best way possible. Such was the case of a young Asia woman who was going to Truckee to visit friends for the weekend. She may have done the right thing in reserving a roomette as the train was so crowded that the diner staff stated they would only serve lunch to sleeping car passengers. Afterwards, if time allowed, the diner would be open to coach passengers.
It wasn't until we were over half way up into the mountains that snow first started to appear on the ground. Before too long even the trees were covered with the stuff. At least this time we could see the scenery and all the snow as we glided along at a moderate speed. However, the obsy car was packed to the gills. There wasn't even room to walk through the car. I retreated to the lower level of my sleeper and watched the scenery pass through the door windows. Those windows also are better for photography as there is not as much glare as found in the obsy. We didn't have to stop until we came to the 2 mile long tunnel near Soda Springs where we had to wait for a westbound freight to come out and pass us. We were told that UP didn't like having two trains in the tunnel at the same time. After emerging from the tunnel we passed Donner Lake and then descended around the horseshoe curve. About 15 minutes later pulled into the Truckee station. At least into what we could of it. The snow was so high that only a very small portion of the station platform had been cleared. We pulled up to allow the passengers in one car at a time to load and unload. That made for a number of separate stops as there were passengers in two of the sleepers and at least three of the four coaches. Needless to say we lost more time there. So, it was about sunset when we finally reached Reno where almost 300 people detrained, and 4 boarded.
Shortly after leaving Reno, NV, we stopped in the UP yard at Sparks and set off two of the four coaches on the train. While it didn't take that long to do this, it meant losing even a bit more time. I called it a night somewhere in the desert around Winnemucca and didn't awake until we had pulled into Salt Lake City. Then I went back to sleep. When I woke up again we were still in Salt Lake City. We didn't leave until about sunrise. Why? Engine problems. One of the two P42's had developed "a cold." For awhile it was thought that a UP freight engine would have to be added to help us get over the upcoming mountains (Wasatch first and then the Rockies). Fortunately, the engine "coughed" and "got well" supposedly thanks to the GE technicians with whom the crew was talking. So, we left Salt Lake City only three hours or so late. Had we needed to add a UP unit, the delay would have been at least an hour longer.
What this meant was that we would ascend the Wasatch Range and go over Soldier Summit in daylight rather than before sunrise. To me that was a worthwhile trade-off, giving up seeing in daylight a canyon or two and some of the descent off the Front Range west of Denver. As it was, darkness didn't completely overtake us until we neared Byers Canyon, going through Gore Canyon at barely last light, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
There was snow on the ground again now, and it made for a picturesque ride over Soldier Summit down into Bryce Canyon by Castle Gate rock and into Helper. During the entire time we had not passed any trains although there appeared to be a couple UP coal trains in Helper yard. The Utah RR appeared dead. Before starting up the mountain grade we had passed some BNSF power on a train near Provo. We had stopped east of the Provo station for a short time. I worried it was the engine acting up again, but it was "just a signal problem." Fortunately, we didn't seem to encounter any more signal problems the rest of the day.
We arrived in Grand Junction, CO, still at least 3 hours late. Nothing had seemingly changed since I had been through there on my westbound leg. All the UP yard and local power was still parked there in long rows. I got off the train for a few minutes and photographed the changing of the engine crew. Then it was back on board, and we were soon cruising east, before long entering De Beque Canyon. It was now late enough in the day that we began seeing all kinds of animals out for their evening hunts for food. Until it got dark people in the obsy car were spotting critters off both sides of the train including herds of elk, bald eagles, big horned sheep, and lots of mule deer among other things. Fortunately, the obsy was not packed this day. There were quite a few people in it, but not more than the car was designed to handle.
Once at Plainview you can see Denver in the distance. At night being yet a couple thousand feet above the Mile High City, the descent reminds one of being in an airplane coming in for a landing. The city lights get closer and brighter as you go downhill and around the Big 10 Loop. The city lights eventually are at eye level, and now all you need to do is get into the Denver Transportation Center. Of course, being late meant having to wait for a BNSF freight to clear a junction before we could back in. I got off for a few minutes to take a couple night shots of the electric commuter trains in that part of the station area.
I have since learned that the true light rail lines are located elsewhere in the transportation center complex. Being so late I wouldn't have dared trying to reach them even had I then known about them. I have also learned that the light rail Blue Line terminates at the Amtrak station in Salt Lake City. Even so, I doubt had I known I would have crawled out of my comfy sleeper to see if anything was running (that early on Saturday morning????).
During the night we made up much of the lost time and pulled into Omaha at sunrise. The station area reminded me of my trips to Omaha when I was in college back in the mid 60's. It's a much more open area now as the track sheds and platforms are all gone except for the one needed to serve Amtrak's two daily trains. A UP coal train passed while we sat there. I was sort of surprised to see it as most UP freights now pass north of town to connect with the old Chicago Northwestern RR mainline rather than run through the city. Although late, Omaha is the first smoke stop after Denver, so the smokers were given time to inhale a cigarette or two. Then we were on our way down along the Missouri River until we crossed over it into Iowa near Pacific Junction. At one time this was a busy RR spot, but no more. I didn't even see any signs of the yard that was once there.
The stop of interest to me that morning was the old division point at Creston. BNSF still has a presence here, and some short line also makes its home here. I just don't know what short line it is. The power I saw was an Indidana RR SD18 still painted and lettered for same and an I&M Raillink chopped nose SD9 still in the Raillink blue & white. Creston also has a big grain facility located east of the station stop, but there was no train there - just a Rail King track mobile tied onto a few cars. Onward through the hills of western Iowa we went with the two main tracks sometimes being separated by up to a mile before coming back together. We passed mostly coal trains, eastbound loads and westbound empties. The coal traffic keeps the track rough enough to make walking through the train a challenge. I recall riding the Nebraska Zephyr with its articulated cars over the same track in the 60's. While there were no coal trains of which to speak back then, the 90 mph running of the Zephyr made it feel like being inside the bowl on an egg beater. Even so, that had been an exhilarating ride. This ride, even on rougher track, was more sedate than that other ride.
Crossing the Mississippi River is always a milestone to me. By this time I was in the obsy talking to a bachelor farmer who farmed 600 acres near Milledgeville, IL, not that far away from where I grew up. He was commenting about the soil and topography of the land as we went on. He was in the coach and had gotten on also at Sacramento, having come down to Sacramento from Eugene, OR, on the Coast Starlight. I've met quite a few farmers on trains during the winter time. That's when they can take some time off, especially if they have someone capable of leaving in charge while they're gone. In this case that capable person was his sister. We talked until he went back to his coach seat to get ready to detrain at the Princeton, IL, stop.
Amtrak does something I find a bit weird and annoying. On the run between Chicago and Galesburg the California Zephyr stops at Princeton. The Southwest Chief, which leaves an hour earlier going west and comes east around the same time as train #6, stops at Mendota. While the two stops are not that far apart, they are far enough apart to be a hassle if the train you want stops only at the other station, especially during what can be rough Illinois winter weather. I wonder if Amtrak would generate more business by having both trains stop at both stations.
Although we were at least 45 minutes late as we approached Chicago Union Station, Amtrak decided to back the train into the station rather than run it straight in. We had missed connections with one of the Michigan trains and perhaps one of the Hiawatha Sevice trains to Milwaukee. I walked into the station to the Metropolitan Lounge as I had plenty of time (an hour or so) before we'd be called to board the Capital Ltd.
And so ended this portion of the trip.
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Whenever possible I like to vary my train travel by taking a different route one way from what I took going the other way. This year that just didn't work for me. Besides, the eastbound ride on the Capitol Ltd. is quite scenic, and the train is due into D.C. at a decent hour in the early afternoon. The eastbound Cardinal is also a nice ride, but Amtrak treats it as a second class train. Also, if it's very late, you don't get into D.C. until ........... Likewise, west of Chicago I am now much more hesitant to use the Southwest Chief in the winter because it goes over so much track not used by any other train. Who knows how long it would take to be rescued if stranded somewhere west of Las Vegas, NM. My thinking is due in part to being a coward, and a DEVOUT one at that. So, I prefer taking fewer risks when traveling in the winter. Of course, going through and over the Rockies, Wasatch, and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges is perhaps even more risky.
While waiting for the boarding call I sat in the Metropolitan Lounge reading my book. A couple times as I sat there an young lady, an Amtrak employee, came by with chocolates for sampling. They were quite tasty. I guess that if I had to chose between a wine tasting and a chocolate tasting, in this case I'd choose the chocolates. For whatever reason the Capital Ltd.'s train wasn't backed into the station until shortly before departure time. So, I decided to ride out with a Red Cap rather than walk. My right knee had been bothering me, and I didn't want to be walking so slowly that I'd miss the train or delay its departure. I could have walked as the sleepers were on the near end. Nor was the train all that long. One P42 was pulling six cars - two coaches, the obsy, the diner/lounge, and two sleepers. I was in the sleeper next to the diner.
Departing Chicago is always interesting to me as you dodge between stack trains, pass by steel mills (both active and closed), and go by some large casinos located along Lake Michigan before passing by Dunes National Lakeshore Park, the EJ&E yard at Gary, and the steel mills and industries between there and Burns Harbor. After that, you plunge into the darkness of an Indiana night and speed towards your first stop at South Bend. I was having supper by the time we reached there and remained in the diner until after we left Elkhart. Then it was back into the darkness until we reached Toledo.
This was the last night I would have to deal with the tryanny of Amtrak's national menu. Alas, the dinner choices were the same on my trip both out and back and included a couple I couldn't eat due to allergies and another I wouldn't eat due to its calorie count. About the only exception was one breakfast on the California Zephyr at which we were offered a breakfast special of a casadilla (sic), with chicken if desired. Otherwise, even the specials were the same throughout the trip. Fortunately, the companionship in the diner was often quite nice (not always, but often) which made up for the lack of variety. It was easy to spend extra time in the diner, especially at night, when the company was interesting and the conversation lively. Being tired I went to bed fairly early that night. I woke up once while we were in Pittsburgh (ahead of schedule), but didn't wake up again until we were east of Confluence, PA. I was missing some of the nicest scenery, snow covered at that.
The next morning the diner crew did something I thought was quite convenient and logical. Rather than trying to squeeze in a quick "express lunch" for sleeping car passengers, they served breakfast over a five hour period, ending at about 11:30 AM. That gave me time to wait until about reaching Cumberland before I decided to eat. The only reason it was before Cumberland was that we were slowing down, moving along sedately. As we approached the summit of Sandpatch and the Eastern Continental Divide we were told we'd be sitting for awhile due to a freight train ahead of us being in emergency. I figured it would be awhile. Much to my surprise about 10 - 15 minutes later we were on the move again and soon passed the freight. I couldn't tell if it what direction it was going as it had two units on both ends. It now made sense to me why I hadn't noticed us passing any other trains that morning. As we descended Sandpatch we finally did pass a couple freights. As it was, due to slowing down prior to stopping we had lost at least 40 minutes.
Strange as it may seem after we got out of Cumberland and passed by the yard we actually started to make up some of the lost time, not always easy to do on this stretch of old B&O trackage. However, passing through Cherry Run, WV, we were told we'd be slowing down as we were behind a freight train and that the dispatcher wouldn't be able to get us around it for some time. I didn't notice that the speed seemed to be all that much slower. Our station stops at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry were quick and efficient, for a change. We must have passed our train in Brunswick for the rest of trip into D.C. was uneventful. We arrived only a bit late.
I got off the train and walked into the station. I was in no hurry for I figured it would be awhile before my checked bag arrived at the baggage claim area. So, I went there and sat down to await its arrival. Except, nothing seem to happen. No one showed up. I asked an attendant if #30's bags would be arriving there. I was told they would. So, I sat back down and waited. A few minutes later a fellow came up to me and asked if I was looking for a bag off #30. I told him I was. He then lead me to a room off the main waiting area and told me that there had been only four people on board who had checked bags through to D.C. They had placed them in this other room once they arrived, but didn't bother announcing that fact. A bit miffed I picked up my bag and headed to Metro and back home to Greenbelt.
So ended another trip. I finished this report on Sunday, February 12, 2017. Tomorrow I leave for San Antonio, TX.