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Trip Report

Amtrak Round Trip St. Louis MO - Santa Fe NM

November 2001

Birmingham AL

St. Louis to Santa Fe

In early November I traveled to Santa Fe, NM. on Amtrak between St. Louis, MO. and Lamy, New Mexico, the station stop for Santa Fe. I left St. Louis for Kansas City on the "Ann Rutledge" at 3:00PM on a sunny, warm day. The train consisted of a Genesis locomotive, baggage car, 3 Horizon coaches and an Amfleet/Amdinette. The Amdinette had business class seating in the front, a food counter in the middle and booths/tables in the rear. A similarly equipped but longer train left for Chicago before ours and appeared to be full. Our train was spotless with one coach almost full while a second coach filled at the suburb of Kirkwood, Mo. 25 minutes later.

The Ann Rutledge traveled to Kansas City on the former Missouri Pacific main line now Union Pacific across the width of Missouri making 8 stops between St. Louis and KC with scheduled arrival at 8:30PM. At most stops a fair number of passengers got off and an equal number boarded. The train arrived at the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit about 80% full. The Ann Rutledge and 3 sister trains an early KC train leaves St. Louis at 7:30AM are partially funded by the Missouri DOT. On this trip the public was taking advantage of the service especially at smaller towns.

Just west of St. Louis the track finds the South bank of the Missouri River and follows it to Jefferson City. This provided a pleasing view of the river turning gold with the setting sun. We were on double track much of the way, fortunately as it turned out twelve UP freights passed us eastbound and we ran around 3 or 4 westbound trains. Just past Jefferson City we stopped to meet the eastbound "St. Louis Mule". Train crews were exchanged (except for the Amdinette attendant) so crew members could be home at the end of the work day. Both crews were efficient and courteous. The Amdinette attendant mixed a good Bloody Mary that went well with an Italian sub. She earned her wages from a constant parade of hungry and thirsty passengers at the counter. It was a nearly perfect trip until 8:15 PM at Independence, MO. There a long UP freight was stopped on the station track such that passengers getting off our train could not cross to the station. While 30 or so de-training passengers lined up our conductor pleaded with the dispatcher to move the freight train enough to give access to the station. Finally, after 45 frustrating minutes, permission was given to break the freight train in front of the station so passengers could cross over. Many riders couldn't understand why the dispatcher reacted so slowly or why Amtrak couldn't order the UP to move the train. In the tradition of late trains getting later, the dispatcher stopped us within sight of downtown Kansas City to let several freights pass.

We arrived one hour late but in time for a 10:36PM connection with # 3, the westbound Southwest Chief (30 minutes late). During a brief wait I went up to the overpass outside the station and watched a parade of UP and BNSF trains pass by about one every 7 or 8 minutes.

Combining my Senior status and Amtrak's 30th anniversary 30% off fare, I had obtained a super-cheap round trip coach fare but feared an uncomfortable, sleepless night. However, despite a nearly full train, I lucked out with 2 seats in the middle of the Superliner coach furthest from the lounge car. I brought a special neck pillow and sleep mask with ear plugs just in case. I didn't need the ear plugs quiet time was being enforced--and using the Amtrak pillow, sleep mask, and neck pillow I passed a fairly comfortable night waking at 8AM in eastern Colorado. Before sleeping I went to the lounge car to view the action at BNSF's Argentine freight yard just west of KC. This is said to be the second busiest freight yard in the USA and even at midnight there was plenty of movement with every manner of train intermodal, refrigerator, coal, chemical, grain, autoracks, mixed, etc. coming, going or being made up. Just west of the yard, we stopped and for 50 minutes the train moved back and forth over a quarter-mile. I assumed something was wrong but found that this is a newly required 1000 mile safety/security check of equipment. Time lost is built into the schedule.

The next day at La Junta, CO. we stopped for 30 minutes and I got off with the smokers to look over the train. We were led by 4 Genesis locomotives followed by a baggage car, and 7 high- level Superliner passenger cars--a transition sleeper for the crew, 2 coaches, sightseer lounge, dining car, and 2 sleeping cars. Hooked to the back of the last sleeper were 23 express, mail, and freight cars. I counted 8 box cars with Amtrak markings, 13 road-railers, an "xpresstrak" car and an Amtrak materials handling car that made #3 look like a mixed train. Just west of La Junta we sighted the Rocky Mountains on the western horizon through the generous window glass of the sightseer lounge. The train chief pointed out Pikes Peak 110 miles to the Northwest covered in new snow. Climbing through spectacular scenery toward Raton Pass, highest point on the line at 7700 feet, we all seemed to talk at once. I suddenly met people from all over the USA plus vacationing Europeans.

Arrival at Lamy was on time at 3:10PM and I caught a van to Santa Fe 15 miles distant. The Southwest Chief is one of Amtrak's best and I enjoyed the westbound experience except for breakfast in the dining car. Breakfast is my favorite dining car meal but this one was disappointing cold rubbery scrambled eggs, sausage, etc. The super-friendly lounge car attendant compensated for this disappointment with his good humor and "happy" hour Margaritas for $2.

Santa Fe to St. Louis

After a pleasant stay in Santa Fe, I was at the Lamy Amtrak station on November 15 to catch #4 eastbound, due in at 2:05PM. At the station I noticed a tourist train of the Santa Fe Southern RR which occupies the former Santa Fe RR branch line from the main at Lamy to Santa Fe. The SFS moves a small amount of freight from Santa Fe to interchange with the BNSF and operates an extensive year-round tourist train program. They have a 17 mile route through the mountains and run a variety of trains with an ex-Santa Fe dome car and coach, an ex-Jersey Central RR commuter coach and an open-air flat car with railings. The Santa Fe dome car was said to have run on the Super Chief and was once rented in its entirety by singer Eddie Fisher for a honeymoon trip East with Elizabeth Taylor.

Number 4 eastbound was on-time and crowded but my luck held and I had 2 seats to Kansas City and a reasonably good nights sleep. In the lounge I heard several passengers say they cashed in American Airlines tickets to take the train because of the plane crash on Nov. 12. The train crews on both # 3 and 4 were friendly and helpful. The lounge car attendant eastbound entertained passengers with clever singing announcements and $2 whiskey sours at happy hour. Train consist was the same as # 3 except that we pulled 25 "freight" cars. At 7AM just west of Kansas City we spent 60 minutes doing the strange back and forth shuffle. Since people were awake it was explained on the PA system. Passing through Argentine yard I spotted a great variety of locomotive types and colors--Santa Fe markings in red and silver war bonnet colors or blue and yellow, Burlington Northern green, the new BNSF orange, green and black in two different patterns, KCS, NS, and UP locomotives, etc. Arrival at KC was on-time at 8:15AM.

The St. Louis Mule connection didn't leave until 3 permitting a visit to the restored KC Union Station next to Amtrak. The station was built in 1914 at a cost of $48 million (1914 dollars). Most of the $ paid for relocating tracks, building overpasses, etc. for the 15 railroads then using it. It boasted the nation's second largest waiting room (after NY's Penn Station) and was the largest exclusively run-through station in the country. The main hall and concourse, both with high ceilings, have been nicely restored. A science museum and IMAX theater are housed in former storage areas. The information kiosk is now a KC Visitors Center and there are restaurants and a fast food court that includes a sandwich stand called "Harvey House" after the famous Harvey House restaurants of Santa Fe Railway. fame. An exhibit describes the station's building process and operations. Built for 350 trains a day, it handled a peak of 270 daily passenger trains in 1919. In the 1950's over 100 trains per day still used the station including those of the Santa Fe, UP, KCS (the Southern Belle to New Orleans), Missouri Pacific, Burlington, Rock Island, and Frisco. The restoration is impressive and the facility was filled with school groups and people eating lunch or sightseeing.

A covered walkway connects the station to a downtown shopping mall. I strolled over and found Fritz's Railroad Café. A wide-gauge model train layout ran all through the restaurant and meals are delivered by train. Very unusual it was jammed with kids.

The St. Louis Mule left KC at 3:05 and again I was pleased to find a well-scrubbed train staffed by a friendly, efficient crew. The train ran about 80% full all the way. Unfortunately, the UP dispatcher stopped the train just outside KC for an hour and we arrived at St. Louis at 10PM instead of the scheduled 8:40. The conductor explained on the PA that the UP controls train movements and Amtrak waits in line on this very busy track. The other negative was a group of young adults who kept the lounge car attendant busy and sang bawdy songs heard by kids in the coaches until the conductor intervened. Again we passed freight after freight all the way to St. Louis.

Despite the late arrival I thoroughly enjoyed my trip from start to finish. If Amtrak provided the service I experienced system-wide it might well retain many new customers boarding trains since September 11.

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