Auto Train and Silver Service
December 27, 2001 - January 5, 2002
December 27, 2001
For the past twelve years my father has spent the winter in Florida. When he first started going he would drive himself, usually right after Christmas and staying until early May. I would take a weeks vacation in March and go visit and get warmed up. I took the train, either the Silver Meteor or Silver Star. Several years ago I started to drive him back down and back. After doing that a couple of times we started using the Auto Train.
We departed Easton, MA at 4:30 am and arrived in Lorton, VA at 1:30 pm. Our route was basically I-95. We used the Tappan Zee Bridge to go around New York City, then the Garden State Parkway to the New Jersey Turnpike, over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and on southward. At the Beltway we took the Inner Loop. At the Woodrow Wilson Bridge we found traffic crawling from there to the 95 south ramp about 5 miles. It took us just about an hour to cover that distance. The cause of the backup was too many cars trying to go south on 95.
The drive to Lorton makes me wish that there were an Auto Train in New England. Assuming Amtrak had the money it would require a terminal, rolling stock, operating and service personnel. The passenger equipment would have to be single level to operate under the catenary and fit in the tunnels. Transit time would probably be about 24 hours and the Sanford terminal would have to be enlarged. Those thoughts crossed my mind as we checked in. Check in was fast and pleasant. We got the 5pm dinner sitting and were told boarding would commence about 2:30pm. I took the opportunity to explore the new station building. The waiting area is quite spacious. It is able to comfortably fit all the passengers. The new platform accommodates the entire passenger consist. Formerly it was necessary to split the train. I had time to get the consist. I will list them all at the end of my report.
We started boarding promptly at 2:30. We had Room 13 on Car #5341. Carl was our attendant. We settled in and passed the time waiting for departure talking. Another reason to ride the rails. Our departure was at 4:00pm. Last year they held the train until 4:37pm because a massive traffic jam on 95 and the fact that a large number of people had not checked in by the 3:00 cut off. I thought that this was a nice thing for Amtrak to do.
We had a total of 434 passengers on board and 235 vehicles in the auto racks. We had 2 dining cars, 1 for the 1st class and 1 for the coach passengers. Dinner, as always, was good. We both had baked chicken with rice and mixed vegetables and Cabernet. On this trip I took the lower berth and Dad the upper. He was reminded of his trips across country during World War 2. He told of how he rode in a 1st class parlor between Chicago and Boston on a coach ticket and how he kept dodging the conductor.
At Quantico we stopped to protect the crossing as the signals and gate were not operating. South of Fredericksburg we passed Trains 90 and 80 (I believe) in the same siding wanting for us to go by. At Dunn, North Carolina we encountered a signal failure that caused about an hour delay.
For supper that night we had the Beef entrée which, as usual, was very good. We dined with a retired couple from Florida. He had been with the National Security Agency and she an analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency. They were going home after visiting their son in Maryland.
We got up at quarter of 6, showered and had breakfast. We went through Jacksonville at 6:58am. Dad was stationed at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in 1942 where he took his advanced training as an aircraft mechanic or in Navy parlance aviation machinist mate. We passed by the front entrance to the air station. We talked of that distant time when the entire world was locked in mortal combat. He shared some memories of that terrible time and of his service in the Pacific campaign. Riding on a train seems, to me, to encourage conversation. That is one of the reasons why I enjoy train travel.
We arrived in Sanford at 9:40 am. After detraining we waited about half an hour for our car to be unloaded then off to Miami. My father’s place is not in the City but unincorporated Miami-Dade County right near Pro Player Stadium.
Tri-Rail Trip - December 29, 2001
Last year I took time to ride Tri-Rail, Miami’s commuter rail system. I did not write a trip report but did have my notes from that excursion. I have written about that ride now.
Today I rode Tri-Rail for the first time. Yes, in ten years of going to South Florida I had never ridden Tri-Rail. I wanted to get the mileage from Hollywood to Miami International Airport. I departed Hollywood on Train #P609 at 10:03am, arriving at the Airport station on time at 10:39 am. The equipment was the standard Tri-Rail push-pull consist of 5 double deck coaches and an F-40 power unit. The ride was really quite nice but far from scenic. The railroad parallels I-95 past the Golden Glades station on one side and an industrial area on the other. Tri-Rail does not stop at Amtrak’s Miami station. The Amtrak station is on a sidetrack that stub ends at the station. Tri-Rail continues past to the Metrorail transfer station. Here you can transfer to Miami’s rapid transit to take you downtown. Tri-Rail ends at the airport and there is a shuttle bus to the terminals. I departed the airport at 11:13 am on Train #P614 (same consist as P609) and arrived back in Hollywood at 11:44 am. A nice quick little mileage collector. For more information on Tri-Rail see their web site.
January 3, 2002
Time to leave Florida and head back to the cold north.
I departed from Hollywood on Train #90, The Silver Palm. Departure was at 5:30 pm. The station area has been renovated with a new platform for both Amtrak and Tri-Rail. The parking lot has been redone as was the station entrance from Hollywood Blvd.
There was a drug dog sniffing passengers and luggage. Instead of just passing through once the officer went through about five times. I thought this very intrusive.
Once under way I settled into Room #9 of Car 9010. We had some slow running north of Sheridan for track work and long dwell times in all the stations up to West Palm Beach. At each station there was a lot of baggage to load. We averaged about 10 minutes in each station. Amtrak does not carry local passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami. That is Tri-Rail's job. So all these people were heading north. At some after leaving Hollywood the train chief announced that all coach seats were sold out leaving West Palm Beach. Our departure time from West Palm was at 7:10 pm, which is 26 minutes late.
For supper that night I had Red Snapper with a baked potato, mixed vegetables and key lime pie. As always the food was very good. I have never been able to complain about the food in the full service diners; it is always good.
Just north of West Palm we met the Train #91 which was about four hours late. That was the night after the big snowstorm the hit the southeast. On the run up to Tampa we encountered more slow running north of Avon Park for about 15 miles. At Auburndale we met Train #97, which was only 4-½ hours late.
We backed into Tampa thirty-two minutes late, at 10:47 pm. Tampa is a stub end track that necessitates a backing move from a wye in Ybor City. This is a distance of about 3 miles. Departure was at 10: 59 pm, 36 minutes late. Leaving Tampa I did a walk through the coaches. They were about one third full so that means there were a large number of people traveling from South Florida to the Tampa area. The dorm car was a Viewliner. With the shortage of sleepers it seems that Amtrak could find a Heritage sleeper for the crew.
I went to bed shortly after going through Lakeland again.
I woke up at 3:30 am when we were standing in Jacksonville. On the train I sleep when it is moving. If it stops for more than several minutes often I will awaken. After servicing the train and adding the M&E cars we departed at 4:03 am, 55 minutes late. I drifted back off to sleep. I woke again before Savannah. After watching the sunrise and seeing the snow on the ground I felt like staying in bed, but I did not. Instead I took a shower and had a good breakfast of Railroad French toast. Just south of Charleston we stopped for one hour and ten minutes with no announcement until we got moving. We were stopped for a frozen switch. The storm the previous two days had been the heaviest snow fall (about 6-12") in the South in several years and had shut down most of the regions airports and highways. We left Charleston (actually N. Charleston) SC at 9:26 am, 2 hours 15 minutes late. The further north we moved the more I thought I was back home in New England. There was close to a foot of fresh snow on the ground, the pines were over and in many cases broken by the weight of their wintry, white blanket. In the towns we stopped in along the way I could see the people bundled up in their heaviest winter coats with stocking caps pulled low over their ears. I got that warm safe feeling that one gets when looking out at Mother Nature from the warmth of a snug home, in this case my compartment on the Silver Palm. At Florence we changed operating crews, departing at 11:45 am, now 2 hours and 41 minutes late. As the old saying goes "A late train only gets later".
We arrived at Fayetteville at 1pm where I met Steve. I planned to visit with him for the day and catch Train #98 that evening. Steve is an airborne paramedic stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. He is from Easton. His parents and I have been friends for a number of years. Growing up Steve and his two brothers called their uncle. He showed me the base, his quarters and we toured the Airborne/Special Forces Museum, which I might add, is really great and located next to the Amtrak station. We had a late supper at a local steakhouse and then a few beers and back to the railroad station.
The station appears to be in very good condition. The waiting room/ticket area occupies half the building. It is bright and clean and has the high backed wooden benches. There is a large TV in one end. The other half of the building is a Subway submarine sandwich shop (also called heroes and grinders). Train 98 was running on time until about 11:15 or so when the station agent announced that a freight running ahead of #98 had struck an auto in a grade crossing just south of town. This necessitated 98 backing to the nearest crossover and running around the accident. Fortunately this happened in double track territory. The train arrived at 12:03 am (35 minutes). I settled into my room (#4 in Car 9811), in which by the way the bed was already made up. Thank you.
I went right to sleep. It had been a long day and I was tired.
I woke up around 5 am and just lay there listening to the train and feeling the rhythm of steel wheels on steel rails. Soon we arrived in Washington D.C. At 5:55 am to be precise, only ten minutes late. So I guess once in while a late train does not get later. Departure was at 6:18 am. I had breakfast in the diner with an older couple from Westchester County, New York. They were both schoolteachers and had gone to Disney World on vacation. This was their first long distance train trip and they both enjoyed it. The September 11 attacks had caused them to consider the train rather than flying and they enjoyed the slower more relaxed pace of rail travel. By the way I had French toast again for breakfast.
We left Newark at 9:16 am. New York City’s skyline came into view and I just watched it. The last time I had been on this route which was almost a year ago the twin towers of the World Trade Canter were quite visible and I along with most people took it for granted that they would be there forever. Now as I looked over to Lower Manhattan they were gone. Being a firefighter, this attack and the subsequent deaths of 344 of my brother firefighters caused very raw emotions of anger, horror, hatred and grief. Over the course of time the feelings subsided. Now as I sped across the Northern New Jersey toward the Hudson those feelings came back. Thank God I was in a private compartment and could think about this in solitude.
Arrival at Penn Station New York City was at 9:30 am (10 minutes early). I headed for the Metropolitan Lounge, which is now known as Club Acela. It had been recently remodeled. New furniture and a good scrubbing do wonders. I grabbed a cup of coffee, comfortable chair and curled up with the book I had started reading while in Florida. Time can pass quickly when one gets absorbed in a good book. I was reading Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts.
I departed New York on Acela Express #2250 at 12:03 pm. I took a seat in business class on the fireman’s side of the train (left side facing forward). I did this so I could see Manhattan. Now I viewed the changed skyline a bit more dispassionately. Riding through Queens and crossing the Hell Gate Bridge into Brooklyn I could see the living, breathing city bustling below and on both sides. Life does indeed go on.
After Stamford, at 12:46pm. I made my way to the café car and got a turkey Reuben sandwich for lunch. I then settled in to watch Connecticut go by. Between New York and New Haven the landscape is urban with great mix of new modern glass buildings, old brick factories and wood frame tenements. Throw in some of the most expensive suburbs in the world the Long Island Sound shoreline and you get see the entire spectrum of the socio-economic scale in this country.
After leaving New Haven at 1:29 pm we really picked up speed because the tilting mechanism was engaged. In Metro North territory the tilt feature in the Acela Express is not used because of the fear of sideswiping a passing train. East of New Haven the tracks are spread far enough apart so there no danger of a sideswipe.
Quickly and quietly the miles pass as now we are going over 100-mph. This new American Flyer does not give the shaking, bouncing ride of the older Amfleet coaches. It is smooth gliding past the beauty of the Connecticut shoreline. The beaches on the right (engineer’s side) the tidal flats on the left. Even on this bright, cold January day there are people walking the beach looking for that something that the oceans waves crashing on the shore.
At Old Saybrook new platforms with a pedestrian overpass are under construction. In new London we are held for Train #2255. The Maintenance of Way crew has one track shutdown between New London and Westerly RI. We were only delayed for 10 minutes. In Rhode Island is were we getting rolling at 150 mph. Again the ride is quiet and smooth. It does not feel that we are going 150. Arrival in Providence is at 3:08 pm and then into Route 128 at 3:30 pm. On the platform I spotted a friend who is an Amtrak conductor. He had just gotten off the same train. He said to me "If I had known you were on you could have rode in the cab". Oh well.