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Trip Report

Virginia and Maryland Trip

December 25-27, 2001
Section 2 of 3


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Tuesday, December 25th

In Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach, like many cities, was a virtual ghost town on this day. The temperature was in the 40's, and the relatively few businesses that do remain open during the winter were closed for this holiday. I sort-of expected that. My dilemma was that my hotel's check-in time was 3:00 PM, and it was just past 12 noon when I stepped off the bus after my nine-hour rail/bus journey from Metropark. Where would I go, what would I do, where could I stay? I was afraid the hotel would say, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

I decided to at least try to leave my luggage at the hotel office until I could check in. It was only one block east and two short blocks north from the bus stop to my hotel, a 10-story Econo-Lodge. When I went in, I told the clerk that I knew I was early, but I wanted to leave my luggage while I looked for lunch. She let me check into my room early, saying plenty of rooms were available. The check-in times are really only enforced during the summer resort season. Anyhow, since it was just me, I had decided to pamper myself with a room with a single king-sized bed. I paid probably $100 less than this room would go for in high season.

I got to my room, relaxed for a bit, and then set out once more to search for food. Remember, the lounge car on the train had closed early on me, and it was now two hours later. Well, not much was open. After walking about seven blocks north, I came upon a hotel called the Colonial Inn which had a restaurant that was open and serving lunch. Or shall I say, dinner. I ended up dropping over 25 bucks in there, including gratuity, and I had a steak dinner with a plate of spaghetti, a bowl of soup, and a soda. You only live once, but I knew I would not also be having my next meal (the dinnertime dinner) here.

I walked around Virginia Beach, looking at the closed stores. Some hotels, rather than staying open all year, just board everything up and abandon their buildings until the season when they can charge $200 a night and get away with it. I walked into a 7-11 convenience store to stock up on snacks for my next train ride. I also located a sub shop that was open, and decided that I would eat dinner there.

I went back to my room, where I took a shower, took a nap, and watched some television. Out my window I could see the Atlantic Ocean, and the almost-deserted beach in front of it. It was still in the 40's, yet there were people walking on the beach. One nut actually had his shirt off.

For dinner I went to Zero's Subs, a sub sandwich chain located primarily in several southeastern states. One free plug for you for staying open on December 25th. May you be the example for others to follow!

The sun had set early on Virginia Beach, these being the shortest days of the year. But a surprise greeted me when I looked out my window. Although it was pitch black over the ocean, there was a holiday light show along the boardwalk. It's something that one does not notice during the day, but what the city does is to put up a moving light show over the entire length of the boardwalk, and they let cars drive on it to view the display.

I retired early because I had an early exit from the resort in the morning.

Wednesday, December 26th

AMTRAK Thruway Bus 6094: Virginia Beach to Newport News

It was, of course, dark as I awoke, dressed, and quickly checked out. My Thruway bus was scheduled to depart Virginia Beach at 6:20 AM. I checked out at 6:05, and walked the short walk back to 19th & Pacific. I began to worry when there was no bus there at 6:20, but then it appeared around 6:23. Two other passengers also boarded. This time we had a very friendly female driver. She collected our tickets aboard the bus once again, after stowing the luggage underneath. When she took my AMTRAK ticket, she remarked that this was December 26th, and it would have been her 27th anniversary if she had still been married. I admit I thought about what would have been my 12th anniversary had I still been married, but I think at some point one needs to forget those things and move on. Anyhow, it was 6:25 AM when we departed Virginia Beach. I was safely aboard the bus, and I figured this was a guaranteed connection if we arrived late at the train station.

The bus got to Norfolk's "station" next to the parking lot at 6:46 AM. Here, there were many passengers boarding. This was, after all, one of the busiest travel days of the year. One woman had a tearful goodbye with her adult daughter, and they could not bear to part. The daughter, who was not going to be travelling, was allowed to board the bus and sit next to her mom until the bus was ready to depart. As we were leaving Norfolk at 7:03 AM, our driver told us about her route, and showed she knew a lot about the trains as well. She went over the procedure that the train goes through, how it would be taken out of the yard at Newport News and then backed into the station 20 minutes before its scheduled departure. She also collected the tickets of those who boarded at Norfolk, and said that anyone without a ticket could purchase one from the agent at Newport News, who would then give the driver her portion of the ticket. No tickets are sold at these little bus shelters in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

The bus went the same route as the one yesterday, through Norfolk, Portsmouth, the Monitor Merrimack Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, and finally Newport News. When we pulled into the AMTRAK station at 7:35 AM, it was already crowded. The inside of the station had a long ticket line and there was noplace to sit. It was more comfortable to stand outside.

AMTRAK Train 94, ACELA REGIONAL: Newport News to Washington, DC

The consist of this ACELA REGIONAL train is stored overnight. After it arrives in the evening as 95 (Monday through Thursday), 83 (Friday), or 99 (weekends), it is wyed and stored in a yard directly across the large right-of-way from the station, behind some freight cars. It is not visible, but one can hear the diesel engine and horn as the train is preparing to move out. At 8 AM exactly, just as the bus driver said it would, the train came into view, went west onto the mainline, and moved past a switch. it then backed slowly onto the station track, coming to a stop at 8:10 AM.

Between the forward and backwards movements, I was able to record this train's consist:

803 P-40 locomotive 21680 Amfleet I coach 82515 Acela Regional CoachClass 21660 Amfleet I coach 21124 Amfleet I coach 21242 Amfleet I coach (I sat here) 21099 Amfleet I coach 43002 Amfleet I cafe 81507 Acela Regional BusinessClass

The train was packed leaving Newport News; in fact loading took so much time that the train departed five minutes late at 8:25 AM.

8:40 AM, I saw several roller coasters, and knew we were passing by Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Five minutes later we rolled into the Williamsburg station. Here, there was another heavy crowd boarding. On the radio I heard the ticket agent tell the crew, "Excellent stop, perfect positioning to handle the crowd." When the train left Williamsburg at 8:48 (just two minutes off the advertised, it was very crowded. From just two stations there were very few empty seats left.

9:23 AM we came to the Beulah signal, the same one where the day before, Train 67 had to wait for a late 94. Today, 94 was closer to its schedule despite the heavy passenger load. We did not encounter 67(25) until five minutes later. It had the same 108 locomotive as it did the day before.

On the rough, elevated tracks westbound approaching downtown Richmond, I could see a Norfolk Southern freight on tracks across the James River. We passed the Main Street Station at 9:35 AM, and I noticed that there do not appear to be anything resembling platforms. They have a long way to go to make this an operational station stop once again.

At 9:41 came the announcement that the cafe car was closing, and it would reopen past Richmond. Question, when did it open? Chances are, with such a crowded train, people just started queueing up and the attendant did not feel it was necessary to let others know the service was available. Where do they train these people?

Restricted signals slowed our run through the city of Richmond and Acca Yard to the north. The train got into the "Richmond" Henrico County station at 9:56 AM, somehow nine minutes early! A few passengers got off there, but there was a larger crowd waiting to board. And herein was the confusion.

Train 92(25), the northbound SILVER STAR, was running about an hour 20 minutes late. It arrived 10:02 on the adjacent track next to 94. So the passengers in the station were awaiting two northbound trains. I heard an announcement telling boarding passengers to make sure they were boarding the train that was on their tickets. Both trains did their station work at the same time, which must have been a nightmare for the station personnel. Luckily the train I was on did not carry a baggage car.

I got 92's consist without leaving my seat:

172 P-42 locomotive 1 P-42 locomotive 1567 MHC 1161 Baggage 2516 Heritage 10-6 sleeper as crew dorm 62039 Viewliner sleeper "Stream View" 62041 Viewliner sleeper "Summit View" 8519 Heritage diner 28006 Amfleet II lounge 25074 Amfleet II coach 25006 Amfleet II coach 25083 Amfleet II coach 25124 Amfleet II coach 25001 Amfleet II coach Plus 7 Roadrailers

At 10:15 AM, my train, 94, was ready to depart on time. But it was decided that we would follow 92, Between here and Washington, DC, the STAR stops only in Alexandria, while this train stops in many more places in Virginia. Once again, one late train making others late. 92 departed at 10:17 AM, still one hour 20 minutes behind schedule, and then we followed at 10:24, nine minutes down.

We encountered a restricted signal before Ashland, putting us further in the hole. By the time we departed from Fredericksburg at 11:27 AM, we were 17 minutes late.

And here was another little story. All stations had larger-than-normal passenger counts because of heavy post-holiday travel. For a novice traveler, things could be confusing. A woman who boarded our train in Fredericksburg had intended to go to North Carolina on the CAROLINIAN, Train 79. The latter was approaching a few miles north of us. Our engineer contacted his counterpart on 79 and arranged a meet at Leeland Road, which is normally just a Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter stop. When we got to Leeland Road at 11:32, the CAROLINIAN was already stopped there. We put the passenger off. Since there is no station on the other side, I am sure the woman was given instructions not to cross the track until the crew of 79 told her to do so after 94 left. The story ended happily for the misplaced passenger, and two late trains became still later.

I heard the crew tell the engineer, "7 VRE's to Washington and Alexandria", probably a reference to some commuter passengers using monthly passes to ride on this AMTRAK train.

Twenty minutes late out of Quantico, we rode left-handed after crossing the Quantico Bridge. At 12:01 PM, there came an announcement that the cafe car was closing, the last person in the line had been designated. I was smart enough, knowing how crowded it was, not to even attempt having lunch on this train anyhow. I knew that I'd be in Washington Union Station where a much better choice of foods awaited me.

We then passed the AUTO TRAIN terminal in Lorton. This time, the train was in. A very long Superliner consist sat at the platform. Two P-40 locomotives, 839 and 836 sat in a locomotive maintenance area.

Again, heavy station work made the Alexandria stop take a full five minutes. We were still 17 minutes down upon departing from there. Things seemed to be going well, until just after we passed by the L'Enfant Plaza VRE station. Union Station was congested, and there was no place for us to station. Remember, it appeared that Tracks 23 and 24 were out of service, and we had a late train in front of us. We sat at a stop signal between Virginia Avenue and the Capitol Hill Tunnel for about 4 minutes. I heard on the home AMTRAK channel when 92 was given the okay to depart from Washington, thus opening up Track 26 for our arrival. We came to a stop at Washington Union Station at 12:40 PM, just 15 minutes down. That was not bad at all considering the heavy boarding at the stations, the delay at Richmond, the unscheduled stop at Leeland Road, and the stop signals approaching Union Station. Schedule padding probably anticipates these delays occurring often.

In Washington, DC

I had 3-1/4 hours in Washington before beginning the second phase of my trip, taking MARC to Frederick. I wanted to leave my luggage in one of the lockers in Union Station while I was having lunch and riding the Metro, but the lockers have been closed for security reasons. As if my dirty laundry poses a threat to national security. So, the suitcase would stay with me on the Metro.

I first had lunch at my old favorite, Sbarro's. They've changed it into a "buffet" of sorts, only it's not unlimited food but rather one pays for what they take by the pound. And the pounds add up fast, both on the plate of food I paid for and later on me.

After lunch I headed for the Metro. This was my first time in Washington since the MetroFest last January. I had some farecards purchased that day that had to be taken to an agent because they never were used to exit the system on account of the free rides being given that day in celebration of the opening of the Green Line to Branch Avenue. That was accomplished at the sales office at the Metro Center station. In all, I rode the Red Line from Union Station to Fort Totten, the Green Line to Prince Georges Plaza, the Green Line again from Prince Georges Plaza to Gallery Place, the Red Line again one stop to Metro Center, and then the Red Line once more back to Union Station.

When I got to Union Station, I purchased my MARC tickets from AMTRAK's Quick Trak machine. They vend tickets to any MARC destination, whether it is on AMTRAK's route or not. I purchased two one-way tickets (one was for my return the next morning) to Frederick.

I still had some time to wait, but since the terminal was so crowded I did not venture too far from the waiting area next to Gate A, from where I would go to the MARC train. At about 3:40 PM, the train to Frederick was posted for Track 8, and I went out and boarded.

Continued in next section

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