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Trip Report

METRA in Chicago

February 9-13, 2002
Section 3 of 3


(Click small photos to see larger; all larger photos are less than 35K)

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Tuesday, February 12, 2002 (Lincoln's birthday) (Continued)

METRA trains #47 & 62 Chicago (OTC) to Geneva & return.

Arriving back at Madison Street, I look to see which track we're leaving from. This will be an express making only 3 stops. Wheaton, Winfield, (another sister city) and Geneva. I have two purposes for riding this train, rather than a daylight trip. First, I want to ride an express out of the city, having rode one in on Monday, and also To ride this line, which I have never done before. We depart on time, And race toward Geneva. After entering the actual trackage that leads to Geneva, we have a guy in a sports car racing us along a suburban side street. We are going about 70 MPH. I just pray some little kid doesn't try to cross ahead of him! Our drag racer finds a rather abrupt end to his fun, as the street he is on dead ends while the tracks continue ahead. Score: Car-0 train-1.

We continue our brisk pace racing through the Chicago suburbs as darkness descends. We make our first stop in Wheaton, and several hundred leave the train and head for their cars to complete the ride home. Moving west again, we make another stop in Winfield, Ill. Sister City of my hometown in New Jersey. So far, on this trip I have seen 2 sister cities. Interesting. I wonder how many more cities in New Jersey and Illinois share the same names.

We cross a large bridge over a river, which I believe is the Fox. Arriving in Geneva in plenty of time to return on the flip at 6:05 PM. I decide to ride up front returning to Chicago to see what the railroad looks like. This is something I haven't done in years. I can see signals as we begin moving east. Apparently this is CTC territory. Nothing but high-greens, with a couple "Ninety's in the middle". CNW slang for a limited clear signal aspect that is displayed as red-green-red, viewed from the top down. It usually means a crossover at the interlocking ahead.

I'm treated to a birds-eye view of the Chicago skyline at night as we approach Madison Street. We arrive on time, thus concluding my METRA trips for this year. I have ridden all but two METRA lines. Orland Park on the diesel side, and 91st Street on the electric. I walk back to the ‘L' station and catch the brown line back to Diversey, stopping at the Subway for soup and a sandwich.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002, Ash Wednesday

This day begins on a sweet and sour note. I get a little extra shut-eye this morning, as I don't need to check out until about 9:30. I need a place to store my luggage in Chicago while I'm as Mass and riding the ‘L'. It wouldn't be fun carrying 3 pieces of luggage around Chicago for 12 hours. I check out before 9:30 AM, and catch the brown line back to the Loop. Arriving at Union station, I show the locker attendant my Amtrak ticket and photo ID. They recently started allowing people to use the lockers again. They had been closed since September 11, 2001. I had to get change to feed the locker, before storing my bags I had to feed the thing a dollar's worth of quarters, which it didn't want to take. After some help from the attendant I was successful, and with bags safely locked away, I spent some time watching trains in Union Station before walking back to the Loop. I caught the brown line back to Chicago St. and walked the 6 or so blocks to Holy Name Cathedral. Mass wasn't until 12:10 PM, and I got there with plenty of time to Spare.

One of the great things about being Catholic, is that at least twice a year the church gives away things for free. Ashes on Ash Wednesday, And Palms, on Palm Sunday. That's why Catholics who only attend Mass on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday are referred to as "A&P Catholics!

After Mass, I have several ‘free' hours to explore the CTA lines. I choose the Red line first, that runs between 95th St. (Dan Ryan) and Howard. I ride out to 95th St. first. The train is full and it takes almost 35 minutes to get from Chicago St. to here. The majority of the line is above ground, except the stretch between Fullerton and south of Roosevelt. Two people pass through the train selling things and asking for donations, despite frequent announcements stating that solicitors will be arrested. I return on the next train to Howard. It is a very slow ride on a local that makes almost every stop. Arriving in Howard almost an hour later, I can't make up my mind if I want to go to Skokie or take the Purple line to Linden. The train approaching is a purple line to Linden, and I decide to go with that. Leaving Howard, we begin paralleling a METRA line which appears to be the line to Kenosha and Waukegan. Arriving at Linden (the last stop) I take the next train back to the Loop.

Visit with an old friend, Dearborn Station

Dearborn Station, Chicago

In past reports, I have mentioned more than once the Erie Railroad, as well as its successor, The Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, formed in the early 1960' by the marriage of the ERIE and LACKAWANNA railroads.

The Erie ran from Jersey City, N.J. To Chicago, while The Lackawanna ran from Hoboken to Buffalo, N.Y. The Lackawanna never had a direct presence in Chicago, sending it's through sleepers to the windy city via the Nickel Plate Road. The Erie, on the other hand did. The western terminus for the Erie, and later, Erie-Lackawanna passenger trains was Dearborn Station. The other famous tenant was, of course, Santa Fe.

Hands-down, the Erie-Lackawanna was my favorite railroad. I was privileged to have ridden several of it's legendary passenger trains just prior to their all too early demise. The Phoebe Snow had already gone by the time I ‘discovered' the Erie-Lackawanna but The Lake Cities, New York Mail and the Owl were still alive, although time was running out. I spent a lot of weekends as a teenager riding these trains, and was overseas when they were all removed, so Dearborn has a special place in my heart, lots of happy memories.

Inside Dearborn station...Yesterday once more

Today's visit could be well compared to visiting the grave of a good friend. One who has been gone for over 30 years. I get off the ‘L' at the Library/State & Van Buren stop, and walk towards the station. The familiar clock-tower looks like it is in fine shape. The words "Dearborn Station" are clearly visible.

Good news! The place has been restored. I step inside. It is now an office building, but I close my eyes, and 30 years disappear. If you are very quiet, and you have a good imagination, you can almost hear the E-8's idling at the bumper. The westbound ‘Lake Cities' from Hoboken has just arrived. A small knot of tired passengers enter the station, seems like only yesterday:

"Lookin' back on how it was in years gone by
And the good times that I had
Makes today seem rather sad
So much has changed."
   --From "Yesterday, once more" - The Carpenters 1973
METRA's La Salle Street station at the height of evening rush hour

The restoration is tasteful, but the place will never be the same again. I bid farewell, and walk over to La Salle St. Station to watch the METRA Rush hour fleet ready to head out over the old ‘Rock' to Joliet. I visited here last year, and if time permitted, I would go to Joliet again. There's always next year.

Going Home...Almost.

Well, enough daydreaming. For now. This trip has provided me with lots more fodder to dream about, but its now time to go home. I decide to walk from La Salle St. back to Union Station. It's now 5:00 PM Central Standard time. I get back to Union station and watch the rush hour, already in full swing. I sit awhile in the south boarding lounge, then go upstairs to enjoy a Connie's pizza. I enjoy a very leisurely dinner before reclaiming my luggage from the locker. The "Lake Shore Limited" has just departed, and "The City of New Orleans" is now boarding for Cajun country. An Amtrak employee and I engage in a discussion as to the future of the long haul trains. Last week, George Warrington, the President of Amtrak "put the gun to the head" by telling Congress that if Amtrak was not sufficiently funded that all long distance trains would stop running on September 30th of this year.

This employee told me that all the staff required for cleaning and servicing all those trains were put on notice that their jobs were being eliminated. Overtime was also abolished, and if someone calls in sick, they were not to be replaced with someone on overtime. I just hope and pray that I'll have a train to ride to Chicago next year. Things aren't looking too good right now.

Amtrak train #40 "The Three Rivers" Chicago, Ill. To Harrisburg, P.A.

When I return to the boarding lounge there is a notation below the line for my train "Approx. delay due to CSX Derailment" Huh? I ask a few employees about the notice, and no one seems to know what is going on. I place a call to a friend who works for CSX, and he told me that there was a freight train derailment near Fostoria, Ohio, and there was a possibility we would detour over Norfolk Southern to Pittsburgh. Shucks! I wanted to see the CSX! It closely parallels the ex Erie-Lackawanna mainline for several stretches in Ohio, and although it will be dark, I'll be glad to see any of it. The Amtrak folks finally make an announcement about the wreck, but they say we will leave on time. That's good news. I'd rather sit on a train in the middle of a couple of cornfields than sit in that lousy boarding lounge. I know I'm beating a dead horse, but that place HAS GOT TO GO! and sit in a cornfield....we do!

We left Chicago on time, and actually left Hammond and Nappanee ahead of schedule. I decide to lie down in my coach seat shortly after leaving Nappanee, and I wake up in what seems like a short time, and we are standing still. I don't get up right away, figuring we are in a station, but after a few minutes, the radio informs me that we are stopped WEST of Fostoria. What time is it? 5:54 A.M... We should have been long past here by now.

Whose Railroad is this? [CSX in Ohio]

We apparently are following a parade of freight trains. We make our stop in Fostoria, and then proceed slowly east. After receiving permission from officials on the ground, we proceed very slowly past the wreck scene. Illuminated by large floodlights, I can see several freight cars twisted into grotesque shapes sitting upside down and sideways in the cornfield. Thank God this didn't happen to a passenger train. Crews were busily at work cleaning up the wreckage, but it will probably be a couple of days before trains move through the area at track speed. After passing the wreck we are notified by radio of a broken rail about a mile east. We stop and wait while it gets fixed. about another hour is lost here.

The sun is beginning to shine, and I see a beautiful sunrise that compliments the sunset I saw last Saturday. We arrive in Akron almost 4 hours late, a deficit we will never recover from.

Abandoned signal bridge along the former Erie right-of-way in Ohio

After we leave Youngstown, Ohio the conductor and dispatcher decide that it would be a good idea to re-crew our train at CP Rochester, rather than Pittsburgh. Train and engine service crews are subject to the federal "Hours of service law" (aka: hog law) and cannot be on duty continuously for more that 12 hours in any 24 hour period. This crew signed up in Ohio at 12:46 A.M., and we certainly won't make Pittsburgh By 12:46 P.M.

We arrive at CP Rochester, and the re-crew takes place without a hitch. With new crew on board, we proceed ever so slowly to Pittsburgh station, arriving there 4 and a half hours down. Amtrak has taken good care of us, and I really absolve them of any blame as to our delay. The wreck wasn't Amtrak's fault, yet they provided us with 2 free meals because of the delay. One of which was Kentucky fried chicken that was provided after we left Pittsburgh.

Amtrak #40 the Three Rivers traverses the Horseshoe Curve in PA

It is a sunny afternoon in western Pennsylvania. This allows me to get a shot of the horseshoe curve in perfect daylight.

The engineer gets on the radio between the curve and Altoona, asking the conductor what the passengers (Guests?) got for a meal. The conductor told him "KFC -- do you want me to bring you up a box when we make our stop in Altoona?" "No thanks" comes the reply; "It's kind of difficult to eat fried chicken and run a locomotive at the same time!" I'm glad these guys have a good sense of humor. I enjoy listening to the radio, without it I would have missed the best laugh of the whole trip.

We make our stops at Johnstown and Latrobe, sliding further in the hole, time wise, and finally arrive in State capital at 7:15 P.M. I detrain and watch the crew change and baggage work, then walk upstairs. Thanks, Amtrak for another great trip. My brother Tom is walking through the door just as I arrive in the waiting room -- perfect timing.

Saturday, February 18, 2002

Amtrak train #662, Harrisburg, PA to Newark, NJ

After a restful couple of days with my brother, I head home. The train leaves on time with a handful of passengers. On board are two rail fans with video cameras. I ask them if they are rail fans, and one gives me a dumb look and a smart answer. I can tell they aren't interested in exchanging any information, let alone carrying on a conversation, so I move half way back in the car to work on this report.

We pick up a rather large, boisterous crowd in Lancaster. 3 of them sit immediately in back of the guys with the video cameras. I guess that was the end of their videotaping session.

Arriving at 30th street in Philadelphia, The two rail fans with the cameras get off and are escorted towards Penn coach yard by what appears to be an Amtrak official. That explains their "I'm better than you" attitude.

We depart on time, and arrive in Newark, NJ exactly at 7:28. From here, I catch the 7:59 Raritan train to Cranford, where my wife and daughter are waiting to bring me home.


This was a great trip, and I really mean it. I can't say enough about the service I got on all the Amtrak trains, and I wish I had taken down everyone's name, because all the crews and on board people were so nice to me, and I mean that from the heart. Those whose names I got:

Richard, my sleeping car attendant from Croton-Harmon to Chicago. He was friendly and helpful. I said earlier he has been on this train for 20 years and it shows, in the way he does his job: Professionally. On my seat, when I boarded was a chocolate-chip cookie and a chocolate. Fresh coffee, juice and soda were always available in our car. When I asked him to turn my bed down after Syracuse, he didn't need to be reminded, he just came and did it. While I was at breakfast, he made up my room for day service. He is a real credit to Amtrak. Thanks, Richard for a great trip. I hope to ride with you again.

Another Amtrak employee I must commend is Carol, my café attendant from Chicago to Pittsburgh on train #40. She was just plain NICE. She acted like it was her pleasure to serve me. She would get right up if she was seated and saw someone wanting to purchase something. She also kept the café open until we were almost in Pittsburgh, and gave plenty of notice before closing.

One BAD thing. Train #40, the Three Rivers had a Horizon dinette the day I rode, which, I understand is the usual equipment. Smoking was allowed almost continuously in this car from the time we left Chicago, until I got off in Harrisburg, rendering it unfit for human habitation. Contrary to Amtrak's Official smoking policy for this train, which reads as follows: "Smoking: Cigarette smoking is permitted in a designated portion of the lounge area. At certain times of the day, as announced by the train crew, the lounge area will be entirely non-smoking. No smoking in coaches or sleeping cars" I heard only one announcement regarding smoking, and it said that smoking would be allowed from 2:45 until 3:15 P.M. The fact is that NO smoking policy was enforced on this particular trip, and people just lit up at will, effectively keeping me and many others out of the café, except when necessary to purchase food.

A thank you to CTA and METRA too, for safely whisking me around Chicago and its bedroom communities and a special thanks to my wife, Denise for letting me act out my dreams.

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