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Trip Report

Midwest Trip 2002

June 20-27, 2002
Section 6 of 6


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Tuesday, June 25, 2002 (continued)

AMTRAK Train #50(25), CARDINAL, Chicago-Union Station, IL to Alexandria, VA

I was never able to get the entire consist of this train, either upon departure or after it was split at Indianapolis. We left Chicago from Union Station's Track 22 with 48 axles, represented by the following:

187 P-42 locomotive (to Louisville) 150 P-42 locomotive (to Washington) 1218 Baggage 1XXX Material Handling Car 1XXX Material Handling Car 62XXX Viewliner sleeper 8527 Heritage diner 28307 Amfleet I cafe/lounge 25088 Amfleet II coach (We sat here) 25021 Amfleet II coach 25054 Amfleet II coach (unoccupied out of CHI) 25106 Amfleet II coach (Louisville coach)

I did not see any hospital equipment ferried by this train for Beech Grove. Just as well, since Beech Grove seems to be more of a cemetery than a hospital.

As we departed, Train 30 (which had boarded before us) was still in the station on Track 24. I also saw the consist for Train 48/448 over on Track 26, still empty but 25 minutes beyond its departure time. We got out at 8:10 PM CT, which seemed to be pretty good, just 15 minutes down. I felt confident this would be a good trip, since we had beaten all the other trains out of the station. We went into the yard briefly, but we received no extra cars. I did notice cabbage unit 90215, the one that had been sitting in Pontiac Saturday morning, now in Chicago's yard.

My confidence was further boosted by how quickly we moved from railroad to railroad in the Chicago and Northwestern Indiana area before entering CSX (former Monon) towards Lafayette. We had no station work at our first stop, Dyer, IN, at 9:22 PM, so we still were 15 minutes late.

We also had no station work at Rensselaer, IN, the one nowhere near Albany.

About our trip: We were assigned this particular coach, but we soon came to discover it was a very bad location. We were just behind the lounge car, where people would be smoking. Had this been a Superliner, smokers would have been in a special "smoker" coach on the lower level. Not only did the lounge attendants allow people to smoke 24 hours (despite the signs indicating certain smoking periods), but one had to walk through this smoke to get to the dining car or even to the serving area in the center of the same lounge car. The other end of the lounge car was designated as "no smoking", but with no physical barriers to keep the smoke away, and the necessity to walk through the smoke anyhow, a non-smoking section was pointless.

The door of our coach kept on sticking in the open position when somebody passed through, which meant when the door of the lounge car opened, we would get a cancerous blast in our faces. Since our train was pretty packed, we could not move. Another coach 2 cars back, which was not being used at all, so they should have put people there rather than within range of the smoke.

Another casualty of being on a Superliner-less train was that there was no movie. With the lack of entertainment, and a full day of travel tomorrow, we decided to get ready to go to sleep. Both of us slept rather well, despite the acrid smell.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Aboard the eastbound CARDINAL (continued)

I was almost unaware of our Indianapolis stop, but opened my eyes briefly probably because we were stopped for a long time. A lot of switching is done here, but not knowing how long we had been there, I decided to stay put. Some people did board our coach there, and they did so quite noisily despite the hour and the fact most people were sleeping.

Somewhere overnight, we returned into Eastern Daylight Time, so all times from here forth are Eastern.

Our consist was now down to 36 axles. That means that the 187 locomotive, the 25106 coach, and two other cars went to Louisville. We now had the 150 engine on the point.

I went to the unoccupied seat across from us, and slept across the seats. I slept very well, although when I opened my eyes briefly a few times, I had the sensation that we were going very slowly. I was right.

I awoke when our coach attendant shook me, telling me to return to my assigned seat. It was 7:15 AM, and we were obviously approaching the city of Cincinnati. I knew something was wrong, since we should have been there at 5:30 AM. We rolled slowly into the station, coming to a stop at 7:22 AM. I could see there were a lot of passengers on the platform. We departed Cincy at 7:35 AM.

We continued very slowly over the bridge over the Ohio River, and it was another 20 minutes into Kentucky before we sped up (still within view of Cincinnati).

After a two-minute stop in Maysville, KY, it was 9:20 AM, putting us 2 hours 19 minutes late at this point. We had more slow orders as we continued along the Ohio River through Kentucky. Departure from South Portsmouth, KY was 10:35 AM, making us 2 hours 41 minutes late. Things would not get any better.

11 AM saw us passing a rail yard facility in Russell, KY, followed by the town by the same name. The crew and engineer were planning a double stop for Ashland.

Ashland is a good-sized town. There is a Riverfront Park, with a public boat ramp on the river across from the station. The station itself is intermodal, hosting not only the CARDINAL but Greyhound and the local Ashland bus company. A rubber-tired trolley was parked at the station when we were there.

After passing Cattlettsburg, KY, we now crossed over the Ohio River once more. We passed a building housing a news outlet for WSAZ-TV, which serves the cities of Huntington and Charleston, WV. Our train now entered the state of West Virginia.

Arrival in Huntington, a major stop and crew change point, was at 11:43 AM. We were there about 10 minutes. While in town, I noticed rail equipment on display in the vicinity of the station. The equipment is from the Church Street & Erie Rail Company. A large, unused station, most likely this city's former Union Station, was on the left, while AMTRAK now uses a much smaller building on the right. There is also a small museum on the south side of the tracks.

There was a rather large crowd on the platform to board the train and meet arrivals. When we departed Huntington with our new crew, were were exactly three hours late.

Despite the fact that Huntington and Charleston represnt a combined metropolitan area represented by a single television station, it took us over an hour to get to Charleston. After we departed the state's capital city following a 5-minute stop, the domed capitol building was prominent on the left side of the train.

At 1:14 PM, we passed over another track with a small boarding platform. Perhaps a tourist railroad?

1:31 PM, Montgomery, WV had no station work, prompting the crew to say "nobody home". Next was Thurmond, officially the only flag stop left on this train. Nobody home there either.

Meanwhile, between Montgomery and Thurmond, during the scenic run through the New River Gorge, a large senior citizens group, which had easily occupied an entire coach, went to the dining car for a late lunch. They had probably been promised lunch, but should have eaten three hours ago.

We did have a few on and off the train in Prince. We now were 3 hours 12 minutes off the advertised.

At this point, plans were being made for our meet with Train 51, our westbound counterpart. Although the CARDINAL only runs thrice-weekly, an eastbound and a westbound always pass one another somewhere in this stretch. Our crew found out that 51 was running 57 minutes late, having recently departed Charlottesville, VA. Often when the trains meet, supplies and even employees are quickly exchanged.

Another restricting signal coming into Hinton lost us another six minutes. The weather here in the mountains threatened to hurt us even more, as the sky became dark with ominous clouds. At 3:40 PM, we passed through a tunnel, only to emerge on the other end into a torrential downpour. At 3:56 PM, we passed a former station at Alderson, WV.

The conductor told the engineer to radio to Train 51 that we needed garbage bags, and ice. We passed through the town of Ronceverte, WV at 4:13 PM.

Half an hour after leaving White Sulphur Springs, our engineer again contacted his counterpart on the westbound train, and it was decided that the meet would take place at a siding at Callaghan, VA. However, it was found that both trains were out of what the other needed. The stop was only being arranged to facilitate one employee getting off our train and going westbound. The trains met at 5:04 PM. Both crews were standing in the vestibules next to their respective lounge cars. But before the train stopped, they could only wave as they passed. The conductor cancelled the employee transfer, since both trains were running late, and since our crew was in danger of outlawing. The employee would be carried to Charlottesville where the rest of the crew would be changing.

We were now in Virginia, where our destination was, but still so far from detraining. Our ordeal continued as we stopped at Clifton Forge and Staunton 3-1/2 hours late. The couple who had been sitting in front of us got off in Staunton, but they left a bag under the seat. It was turned in to the coach attendant.

We braved the cancer smoke once more in order to get dinner. Originally with a 7:11 PM arrival I figured we'd eat dinner off the train, but now we had to get some nourishment. The dining car, which I had avoided throughout the trip, opened late for dinner because of the late and long lunch period. We went for our usual fare in the lounge car. I was impressed with the friendliness of the female lounge attendant, who greeted me with the word, "Yes?"

7:04 PM, roughly 24 hours since we had departed from Chicago. Water began to drip from the air conditioning unit, prompting memories of the train in Michigan. When the unwanted water was called to our attendant's attention, his response was that he had water dripping on the other end of the coach too. I guess that made it okay.

As we approached Charlottesville, the crew came through the train looking for passengers who had intended to change to the SILVER METEOR in Washington, DC. There was one family in our coach who was ultimately bound for Rocky Mount, NC. They would have to board the Thruway bus to Richmond, and get the METEOR there.

We arrived at Charlottesville Union Station at 7:58 AM, after crossing the Norfolk Southern mainline at a diamond. Just north of the diamond, along the west side of the station, was the rear of a freight train. I wondered if we would be affected by that freight train once we joined the NS line in Orange.

A new crew joined us in Charlottesville. The crew that had been with us since Huntington made it there within the law. The new conductor was the one who got stuck answering questions about connections at Washington. A few people were supposed to have taken the TWILIGHT SHORELINER to points north along the Northeast Corridor, but they would not be making it, nor 198 after it. He told them that the next train would be departing Washington, DC at 3:00 AM (Train 190).

I asked our coach attendant, who had been on the entire trip, why we were so severely delayed overnight. He said that there had been a flash flood watch (no floods, just a watch!), and that resulted in 15 mph orders for a long stretch.

I saw both the regular Richmond passengers and the passengers for the SILVER METEOR get onto the James River bus next to the station. We departed from Charlottesville at 8:04 PM, 3 hours 17 minutes late. This train should have already terminated in Washington, DC by now.

I still question the lack of a track connection between CSX and NS in Charlottesville. The trip east between Charlottesville and Gordonsville seems endless, as we proceeded east well out of our way. It was 8:47 PM before we came to "G Tower" in Gordonsville, where we turned onto CSX's Orange Sub to head north to join the Norfolk Southern main at Orange.

On the Orange Sub, we had to slow down, as our engineer reported kids playing "chicken". Ten minutes later, the conductor asked the engineer, "any dead chickens?". The response was, "no, but I could have thrown water on them.".

Orange, VA finally came at 9:15 PM, an hour and 11 minutes after leaving Charlottesville. I figured a new railroad would help us improve our timekeeping somewhat, but again my expectations were dashed.

We passed Train 19(26), the southbound CRESCENT, was it was running 50 minutes late. It had just left the station in Culpeper.

Culpeper ended up being a flag stop for us, as we had no business to do there. The time was 9:32 PM, and we were 3:40 late now. But it got worse.

Remember that freight train I had seen back in Charlottesville on the NS? We indeed caught up to it, and had to proceed at a slower speed until it could pull over for us to pass. The freight was identified as NS204, for purposes of the crew identifying the reason for this latest delay. The dispatcher asked NS204 to go behind us, meaning we would all have to wait until the next siding. At a place called Nokesville, we were able to overtake the freight train, who graciously allowed our passing. By this time, it was already 10:15 PM. We did not get a "clear" signal until 10:22, but we had a 25 mph restriction for a while.

About 10 minutes later, we made a two-minute stop in Manassas. We were now four hours, six minutes down. At least we were in commuter territory now, and we were one stop away from ours.

We began getting our belongings together and preparing to leave our prison for the last 26 hours.

There was one more unexpected stop at AF interlocking, as we were already standing near the vestibule with the conductor getting ready to detrain. Our arrival time in Alexandria was 11:08 PM, which put us a few minutes shy of four hours late. What a trip!

In Northern Virginia

Our reservations at the Motel-6 in Springfield, VA were guaranteed, but I had intended on getting there at 8 PM, not this late. Both of us were exhausted, especially Michael who would have liked to stay on the train and continue sleeping.

We walked down the ramp to King Street, under the train overpasses, and into the Metro station. We got our farecards, and then went up to await our Blue Line train to Springfield. Well while buying the farecards, a Blue Line train for Springfield came and went. The next two that came were a Yellow Line train, and then an out-of-service train going to the yard.

There was a guy on the platform cursing into his cell phone. He was expressing anger that the deadheading train passed him by. He came over near Michael and me with his profanities. I asked him to stop, and he got angry at me, telling me he was a Metro police officer, and that he would call the person in the booth (the station attendant??!!) and have me arrested (on what charge I don't know). He continued his profanities telling me in so many words to shut up.

Luckily there were others on the platform to witness this; in fact one woman had her own cellphone out ready to call the real Metro police. Then the train came, and we made sure we were in a different car than our foul-mouthed friend. After the long day we had on the CARDINAL, we did not need that greeting to Virginia.

By about 11:40 PM, we were at the Franconia-Springfield station. I noticed that the entrance was already closed for the night. We went to waiting taxis, and got a ride to our Motel-6. We wearily walked into the motel's lobby at exactly 12 midnight, ending a marathon day on the rails.

As we entered our dark room (no, the lights were not left on for us), this was the first time that Michael did not run and put on the television. With a 6 AM planned wakeup, we barely had enough time to sleep.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

In Northern Virginia

Before checking out, I called the cab company that had brought us to the hotel 6 hours earlier, and asked for a ride to the Metro station. Originally our plan had been to take advantage of a free Metrobus shuttle to the station, but having not slept much and not knowing where the bus stops were, I decided to splurge on the sure thing. Since the station is only a mile away, and that is where the cabs hang out, it was not long before one came to pick us up.

The friendly girl who checked us out was the same one that had greeted us at midnight. It's the first time that ever happened to us, that we arrived and left a motel during a clerk's 8-hour shift.

We had found the Motel-6 of Springfield, VA to be very clean and functional, although the rooms were tiny. Motel rooms under $50 are unheard-of in the Washington, DC area, and we found that by shrinking the size of the rooms, they could do the same with the rates.

When we arrived at the Franconia-Springfield METRO station, it was a much different scene than the night before. It was almost 7 AM on a weekday morning, and our fellow passengers were business people headed for work. There was also a much shorter wait (which makes sense at an endpoint station). We rode the two stops back to King Street, and then walked over to the AMTRAK station once more.

AMTRAK Train #84(27), ACELA REGIONAL, Alexandria, VA to Philadelphia, PA

As soon as we got to the station level, an announcement told us that Train 84 would be boarding on Track 2, the far track. The normal way to cross the tracks there is right across a wooden walkway at grade, which makes things pretty dangerous. An AMTRAK employee with a radio guarded this pedestrian grade crossing; she told us to hurry up across.

A Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter train soon came in on Track 1 (closest to the station building) and discharged a lot of its passengers there.

Our train was late from Richmond, arriving at 8:04 AM (12 minutes late). A lot of passengers got off in Alexandria -- many of them either VRE commuters or those from points south of VRE territory. I was surprised that the passengers detraining here far outnumbered those boarding.

Aboard the train, a conductor came by, but instead of taking our tickets, he told me that since there was a crew change in Washington, the new crew would collect our tickets. Hmmm, does that mean that if I was going just from Alexandria to Washington, I could have done so for free?

Due to padding, we got into Washington Union Station, Track 25, at 8:20 AM, just five minutes off the advertised.

While in the station, I left the train to get its consist:

106 P-42 locomotive (removed at WAS) 82030 Acela Regional Coach class 82516 Acela Regional Coach class (We sat here) 20007 Amfleet I café (not a working cafe, used only for seating) 82051 Acela Regional Coach class 85004 Acela Regional Café 44724 Amfleet I Metroliner coach (as Business Class)

After the diesel engine was removed, it was replaced by:

951 AEM-7 locomotive 21721 Amfleet I Metroliner coach (as an extra coach class car)

Adjacent Track 26 was out of service, its rusty rails having seen no action for a while. Up above, the canopy over this track was being repainted.

Over on Track 28, we saw VRE's colorful SOUNDER consist, borrowed from Seattle. It left the station on a reverse-peak trip to Manassas.

The train departed Washington, DC about 15 minutes late. Over in Ivy City Yard, I saw that FRA coach T-16, the one that had been on our trip on Train 95 coming down.

We continued running late. Our crew said this was due to "other trains passing us". Since when do you have to slow down to be passed?

Our train became very crowded, and the passengers who boarded at the three Maryland stations (New Carrollton, BWI Airport, and Baltimore Penn Station) filled nearly every seat. But I was only remotely aware of this, since both Michael and I used the trip to catch up on our sleep.

We got to Philadelphia at 10:50 AM, a full 26 minutes late. That paled in comparison to our last trip, and it was of no concern to us because our NJ TRANSIT train to Cherry Hill was not until 11:48 AM. We came in on Track 3. When we got up into the station, a long line had already formed for the next northbound train, 174.

Once in Philadelphia, we just sat on the benches, taking turns dozing and watching the luggage, until our NJ TRANSIT train was called on Track 6.

NJ TRANSIT Train #4613, Philadelphia, PA to Cherry Hill, NJ

An uneventful, on-time trip on NJ TRANSIT from Philadelphia to Cherry Hill ended our week-long excursion on the rails. The train was on time, and by 12:15 PM we were back at my car.

Back in New Jersey

By this time we were starving. There had been no time while in Virginia for breakfast, and we opted to sleep rather than wait on lines for food on the AMTRAK train. We had decided that we would go to the Chick-Fil-A in the Cherry Hill Mall for lunch, since we had not had this in a while, and since we did not want to look at any more cheeseburgers or hot dogs for a long time. After our stomachs were pleased, we headed home, and were back from our exciting vacation at about 2:15 Thursday afternoon.

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