I decided that Michael needed a reward for his school work the last half of the school year, plus AMTRAK's immediate future was very cloudy, so what better reason to take a train trip? I had some goals to meet out in the Midwest, such as riding at least part of the Chicago-Michigan corridor, and finishing up my METRA commuter rail mileage in the Chicago area. I also wanted to visit the streetcar operation in Kenosha, WI.
So I put together an 8-day vacation that would also include meeting with some of our Midwestern friends (and one from the east!), and also riding the CARDINAL eastbound since my plans coincided with its thrice-weekly operation.
Well, most (but not all) of it did come to be.
The ticket problem
I've done it before, but this is the first time the plan backfired. I ordered our tickets online, and arranged to have them mailed to my house. In the past, they always arrived on time, usually within 2 or 3 days of the transaction. Part of the problem may have been that I made several separate reservations, in order to take advantage of a 20% off sale that was offered earlier in June, and the Rail Sale program where I got our Grand Rapids-Chicago trip for just $4.30 a piece.
Only one set of tickets had arrived at my home by Tuesday 6/18, 2 days before my trip. I had to swallow my pride and call AMTRAK's toll-free phone number, in hopes this could be straightened out. The agent to whom I spoke was confused, and had to keep putting me on hold to ask somebody else what to do. The problem was that they had records of my tickets being mailed, but I had not yet received them, and would not before my departure. Plus there was the chance that the tickets could arrive on Wednesday, when I still would be home. So one set of tickets that had not been mailed was changed to be picked up in person or at a Quik-Trak machine, one I would wait until Wednesday and call back, and the other missing set I would have to repurchase in person at a live agent, and then apply for a refund of the tickets that would eventually come in the mail. What a mess.
Wednesday, the tickets that I had been told to buy from a machine came anyhow. I still had not received my last set of tickets, for the return from Chicago via a stopover in Alexandria, VA. I still was missing two of the four sets of tickets when we left on Thursday, so this would have to be rectified in Philadelphia.
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Driving to the train
It was a quite 1-1/4 hour drive to Cherry Hill, where my car would spend its vacation in the station parking lot. I parked so my Saturn would have plenty of light at night, but away from the main row of parking.
NJ TRANSIT Train #4610, Cherry Hill, NJ to Philadelphia, PA
NJ TRANSIT4610 seems to be the train I usually take into Philadelphia when I go this way. It leaves from Cherry Hill at 10:00 AM, but is proceeded by an eastbound train (towards Atlantic City) at 9:56 AM. The two trains pass just east of the station as one takes a siding. As is customary, most of the passengers on the single platform are usually headed towards Atlantic City, not Philadelphia. There was another small family (father with a young son and daughter) also on the platform headed for Philly.
No work has been done yet on the closed Garden State Park. The racetrack still stands intact. Hopefully the eventual redevelopment of the site will mean expansion of the Cherry Hill station to two tracks and two platforms.
Our train was on time, and it beat the 10:30 AM padded arrival time in Philadelphia by about 10 minutes.
Alan Burden was the first of several Prodigy friends to meet us on this trip. He was in Philadelphia when we got there. He had arrived from New York on the Acela Express and would be joining us on Train 95 to Washington. He had a pass that allowed him to bring guests into the Club Acela. We were glad to await Train 95 in the comfort of the lounge. But before we could do that, I had to wait on a short line, and then cause it to get longer while I resolved my ticket problem and got all the necessary tickets for our trip. We also had lunch at the food court before going to the lounge. I noted that all trains showed as on time, with the exception of Train 20(19), the northbound CRESCENT, which was an hour late, and Train 44(19), the eastbound PENNSYLVANIAN, which was 4-1/2 hours late, due at 12:30 AM (its old arrival time before the major schedule change).
We probably had about 20 minutes to wait in the lounge, and then our train (which was a little late) was called. We were taken down an elevator (coincidentally the one right next to where we were sitting) to Track 7.
Train #95(20), ACELA REGIONAL, Philadelphia, PA to Washington, DC
Despite the slight delay, it was a quick, uneventful trip down to our nation's capital. This train was moderately patronized, meaning some, but not many empty seats.
Of note along the way, we saw on a siding south of Baltimore P-42 engine 55, which had a large gash in its side. No doubt this was the engine involved in the sideswiping incident between the PALMETTO and a MARC commuter train a few days earlier. I noticed that the father and two kids we had seen on the Cherry Hill platform were in our coach on 95 also headed for Washington.
The consist of Train #95(20), which arrived at Washington Union Station's Track 25 a few minutes late, was:
947 AEM-7 locomotive
82028 Acela Regional
82060 Acela Regional
(we sat here)
21251 Amfleet I coach
21063 Amfleet I coach
21164 Amfleet I coach
21252 Amfleet I coach
20229 Amfleet I dinette
81002 Acela Regional
800718 FRA car T-16
Thanks to Alan for getting the rest of the consist for me. The crew would not let me go beyond the dinette since I was a lowly coach passenger. We have not figured out what the FRA car was doing on the train -- it seemed to be a standard Amfleet coach, only it was painted in light blue, and had the number T-16 on the outside. Alan said that it was carrying some passengers. (I saw it a week later in my trip passing through Washington.)
Alan had given me two special tickets that allow non-members of Club Acela and non-First Class passengers to use the lounge. He went on his way to see a client, but Michael and I were able to use the Club Acela to await Train 29. On Union Station's arrivals monitors, the only train at the time that was seriously late was the eastbound CAPITOL LIMITED, Train #30(19), running about 4-3/4 hours late. That plus the earlier news about #44(19) being expected very late into Philadelphia (both trains run on the tracks west of Pittsburgh) made me wonder what surprises would be in store for us as we made our way west.
It was not long before we were allowed to board the train, which was on Track 24. Other coach passengers were queued up at Gate J in the station as we were taken to the train. Michael and I used the elevator since we had luggage.
Train #29(20), CAPITOL LIMITED, Washington, DC to Toledo, OH
The CAPITOL LIMITED would be our one and only Superliner trip of the entire week, since they were recently pulled off the CARDINAL in order to re-equip the AUTO TRAIN following the latter's derailment in April. I decided to leave our luggage downstairs rather than negotiate the spiral stairway. Once we were settled in our seats (having been assigned to car 2930, seats 13 & 14), I went downstairs and outside to get our consist:
75 P-42 locomotive
85 P-42 locomotive
39041 Superliner II
32040 Superliner I sleeper
32069 Superliner I sleeper
38016 Superliner I diner
33013 Superliner I Sightseer
31535 Superliner I
34073 Superliner I coach
(we sat here)
31005 Superliner I
70042 Express car (50-foot)
1473 Material Handling car
1511 Material Handling car
1422 Material Handling car
1418 Material Handling car
1544 Material Handling car
Departure from Washington was just two minutes down, at 3:22 PM. We were not running heavy at all, as there were plenty of empty seats in all of the coaches. When the crew came through to collect tickets, I found out that a large number of people in our coach were also going to Toledo. A few were headed to other stops in western Ohio.
One man in the front of our section of the coach, near the stairway, was wearing an interesting hat -- it was shaped like (and very well may have once been) a lampshade. Soon after he boarded, he removed his hat --- to reveal yet another lampshade-shaped hat which remained on his head for the remainder of his trip, even as he later slept.
Our conductor was friendly and talkative. I asked him if the connecting bus for Detroit in Toledo is held if the train is late, and he said, "Good lord willing", whatever that means. As we stopped at each station during the daylight hours, we got a brief history and travelogue about that city or town's history. For instance, at our first stop at "Historic" Rockville, MD (at 3:42 PM), he told us it was founded in 1680.
At 3:54 PM, the dining car lead attendant came through our coach taking dinner reservations. I declined, as we agreed we would eat in the lounge car.
We passed Point of Rocks, MD at 4:17 PM. At this junction between the Metropolitan Division and the Old Main Line, a railfan on the MARC platform was recording our passing with a camera.
Harpers Ferry, WV, which we were told was the site of John Brown's raid in 1859, was a double stop for this train. In fact, with the sleeper section stopped in the station, we were still sitting on the bridge over the Potomac River. When we left Harper's Ferry at 4:39 PM, we were now 8 minutes down. A couple of minutes late, I heard on my scanner, the engineer asked the conductor if he wanted a double stop at Martinsburg. It would not be needed.
We heard more banter amongst the crew about the status of the eastbound CAPITOL, which was running very late and getting later. In fact, its crew would soon be outlawing. And a meet would have to be done in a convenient place. Our train carried a relief conductor, who would get off in Martinsburg and replace the conductor currently on Train 30(19). She was the only person to be discharged from our train at Martinsburg, although the crew said 17 were supposed to board there. She carefully wheeled her suitcase over the track closer to the station, and began to await the eastbound train. I wondered why she even needed a suitcase with her, since she had just left Washington after 3 PM and would be returning there tonight. She could have left her belongings somewhere in Washington.
We were told that Martinsburg is the nation's oldest active train station, and were told to look on the right side for the roundhouse. We left there at 5:03 PM, just 3 minutes down. A few minutes later, we passed over I-81. And at 5:19 PM, we passed by our eastbound counterpart.
At 5:29 PM we passed through Hancock, MD. I saw a former station on one side. We were in the lounge car at this time, eating our one-and-only train fare: I had my two two-packs of White Castle cheeseburgers, and Michael had a hot dog. While we were in there, the 5:30 dinner seating was called, so a lot of people walked through the Sightseer lounge.
Back at our seats at 5:43 PM, we soon were given more background of our trip. We were approaching the Magnolia Cutoff, a series of tunnels and high bridges designed to straighten out the line.
At 6:09 PM, I heard a defect detector at milepost 165.1 say that it found a hot box. We had to stop while the train was examined by the crew. It turned out that the hot box detection was false. Luckily we lost only an additional four minutes.
The westbound CAPITOL LIMITED arrived in Cumberland, MD at 6:35 PM. The conductor said that this is the "Queen City of the Alleghenies". A Holiday Inn hotel overlooks the station on the south side of the tracks. When we departed at 6:39 PM, we were again eight minutes off the advertised.
Just past the station, we were told that a cliff above the tracks was the area's Lovers Leap, and that many couples had jumped to their deaths here.
Around 7:38 PM, there was a jumbled announcement from the lounge car, which we later found out was about the movie. Michael went to investigate, and came back reporting that the movie was "Monsters, Inc." This film is one that Michael had wanted to see when it was out in the theaters, but we never had the chance to go. He was delighted he would finally see it. I had decided earlier that we would retire early since we would be arriving in Toledo at 4:16 AM, but I let him see the movie anyhow. When I later went to check on him, he was seated in a booth in the lower level of the lounge car with three other kids, all watching the movie.
We stopped for another 8 minutes (between 7:55 and 8:03 PM) for what our crew said were "operational reasons". I did not happen to have my scanner on at that time because I was busy checking on Michael.
I noticed that our lampshade friend had moved up to near the front of the coach, and was going to sleep with only one lampshade on instead of the two he boarded with. I hope he was able to lift it sufficiently to brush his teeth. I figured I would not be hearing him singing "Blinded By The Light" on this trip.
This was not my first train trip with my new cell phone, as I had gotten it right before our AUTO TRAIN trip to Florida in March. I remain against their use in public, when no consideration is given towards other passengers. I was watching the readout, and could see that it was not receiving very well as we passed through the mountains. It would go from saying "roaming" to "no service". But it was no surprise that some moron would try to make a call anyhow. This woman across from us made a call, and then started shouting "WE'RE IN THE MOUNTAINS, HELLO? HELLO?" A minute later, she said "WE'RE IN THE MOUNTAINS, I'LL CALL YOU BACK LATER". Granted, I did use my phone too on this vacation, but I was brought up with some level of consideration for other people, and would have hung up rather than shout on my phone. Back when we had been closer to Washington, I had called the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village to inquire about their arrangement with arriving AMTRAK passengers, and was assured that there was a shuttle that would take us around to the main gate, so we would not have to walk far with our luggage. They also said we could check our luggage at the information desk at the village.
At 9:05 PM, the crew worked out a double stop for Connellsville, PA. At the same time, an attendant shut out the lights in the coaches. When we departed Connellsville at 9:15 PM, we were a quarter hour down. I took this opportunity to brush my teeth and take my Ambien sleeping pill, knowing I had to get to sleep soon and get my minimum 7 hours out of it before our scheduled Toledo arrival. While I was gone, Michael returned from the movie, and set to also brush his teeth. He was very tired, and would fall asleep very well without medication.
I did in fact miss the approach into Pittsburgh, and awoke once while we were sitting still in the station. I know we left there at 11:45 PM (25 minutes late) but I don't remember anything else about it. In fact, I missed the Alliance, Cleveland, and Elyria stations as well.
Friday, June 21, 2002
Aboard the westbound CAPITOL LIMITED (continued)
I did awaken just west of the Cleveland station, as we were passing the Flats area and approaching Berea, where the crews change channels.
There were many slow & proceed, and approach signals, particularly west of Elyria. At 3:40 AM, we passed Train 48/448(20), the eastbound LAKE SHORE LIMITED bound for New York and Boston. Just sixteen minutes later, we passed the next eastbound CAPITOL LIMITED, Train 30(20).
At 4:24 AM I heard the crew switch to another channel, signifying we were getting close to Toledo. The conductor started to awaken people for Toledo who were still asleep. I got Michael ready as well. We arrived in Toledo's Central Union Terminal at 4:30 AM, just 14 minutes late, and detrained. I was pleased at this timekeeping despite all of the delays en route. Our luggage was where we had left it downstairs, although one of the bags had been pushed back behind somebody else's.
AMTRAK Thruway motorcoach #6029, Toledo, OH to Detroit, MI
We went into the station, and then soon went outside to where two buses were sitting. The buses were both from the company Metrocar, and were also marked Metrocoach. One would be taking passengers off our train to Michigan points, and the other would do the same for the westbound LAKE SHORE LIMITED's passengers, who would be arriving later on in the morning. The problem was, nobody knew which motorcoach was ours. It got a bit confusing as our driver finally got to the bus and opened a door and the luggage rack below. He collected tickets outside the bus, while passengers had to give their luggage to a Redcap who helped load the bus. Also, passengers who had checked their baggage before boarding the train had to claim it from the baggage person there in Toledo before boarding the bus -- but some did not understand that and boarded the bus thinking their bags would just be transferred onto the bus. It was a very hot night in Toledo (probably in the 80's), and tensions were hot too as many, including myself, were unfamiliar with the procedures.
In retrospect, passengers should have been kept inside the terminal in the waiting area until the bus was ready, and there should have been announcements to claim inbound luggage and how and when to board the bus.
We departed from Toledo's Central Union Terminal at 5:30 AM, on time. Still, the procedures could have allowed a much earlier departure and thus gotten people to their destinations that much sooner. Our trip consisted of negotiating the local streets of Toledo, not a difficult task at 5:40 AM, and then eventually onto I-75. While it was very hot outside, the driver had the air conditioning up all the way, making it extremely cold.
Luckily it only took us an hour and 5 minutes to reach the Detroit station. We arrived there at 6:35 AM, 5 minutes early. The bus came off a freeway, made a sharp turn, and soon came to a stop right in front of the station. Our bags were quickly unloaded, and then we saw RRon Achtenberg and his daughter Rebekkah, who had arranged to meet us there and escort us during our brief time in the Motor City. RRon had worked all night, and had plans to meet somebody else at the airport later that day, as well as a medical appointment, so we are grateful for his devoting part of the day to us.