Return to Lynchburg Via the Crescent
November 3-7, 2002
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I was blessed with a chance to return to Lynchburg 3 times this year for training on my employers' radio system, which I as well as three other technicians in our shop maintain. Major enhancements were made early this year, so we needed more training to bring us up to speed on the system.
A week after returning from my METRA adventure in Chicago, I packed my bags again and headed for Lynchburg for the first trip this year. In May, I took the train again, this time, bringing my wife, Denise. In October, Paul and I [Paul is the other senior technician in our shop] drove down for a three day training class.
Now, finally, I am getting to do the report I wanted to do in February. I do have a valid reason for the delay though. Shortly after returning in February, I came down with a serious dose of Pneumonia that took 3 courses of antibiotics to get rid of. I was sick all of March, and April, not feeling better until late in May. For someone who has never been that sick before it was a tough time. I wasn't even in the mood to write. But now, all is well and here we go!
In order to arrive in Lynchburg on time for Class on Monday Morning at 8:30 we had to leave on Sunday afternoon. The Crescent [train#19] only Runs once a day, so two travel days are needed. It's a shame that there Isn't more frequent service, even as far as say Danville, Va. Amtrak, as it exists today is a skeletal system, and just before leaving for this trip rumors are circulating that the Pennsylvanian #43 & 44 are being truncated to Pittsburgh in January. The thoughts of losing a favorite train are not pleasant, especially since I was planning to ride it in February. We'll have to wait and see.
This is Paul's first Amtrak trip. I'm anxious to see what a non-railfan thinks of the experience, since I'm rather biased, and ordinary person's opinion of a trip like this will give me a balance between romance and reality.
Denise drops us off in Westfield at 12:45 so we can catch an NJ Transit local to Penn station, Newark, where we will pick up the Crescent. Upon arrival at Newark, I need to get new tickets, since they had forgotten to include my guest rewards number on the originals. Now, a word about our carrier, Amtrak.
David Gunn's Amtrak
In a previously unpublished article, which is available at the Thorpe Family web site, I gave a little past history of the Crescent, so only a capsule will be provided here. The Crescent originally was called the Southern Crescent and was operated by the Southern Railway until the late 70's. When most of the railroads turned over the operation of their passenger trains to Amtrak back in 1971, The Southern, and Rio Grande refused. Graham Claytor, then president of the Southern Railway, did not want to see his favorite train operated by Amtrak, which in the beginning was a far cry from what it is today.
Claytor kept the Crescent under Southern aegis until he retired, and his successor, L. Stanley Crane gave the train to Amtrak, removing Southern as the last private carrier to operate a regular long-haul passenger train.
By that time, Amtrak had gotten its act together Graham Claytor had come out of retirement to become Amtrak's president and the Crescent again came under his control.
I can't say enough good things about Graham Claytor. He took personal involvement with that train. The crews knew he rode the train, and when the boss is watching, things are always done right.
Under the George Warrington era, Amtrak sucked up more money, while the service went downhill. If Graham Claytor's management policy was one of direct contact, Warrington's policy was one of insulation. He created a multi-layered bureaucracy between him and the people who worked on the trains, as well as the traveling public. Thankfully he resigned earlier this year, and was replaced by David Gunn, a guy who knows how to run a railroad. It will take Dave Gunn a long time to undo all the damage that took place under the Warrington era, but he has made a good start by getting rid of a large number of useless consultants. While I'm not happy about Dave Gunn cutting service, I know he'll do the best he can with a bad deck. Too bad he hadn't come aboard a few years earlier.
Here comes the Crescent!
Train #19 arrives on the platform at 2:45. Paul and I board and settle in for the trip. Our car attendant, whose name I didn't get, told us we could sit anywhere we wanted to, so we picked two seats on the left, which gives the best view of the line.
Our consist, leaving Newark was:
Locomotive: #604 E-60 MHC 1434 Baggage: 1710 Crew Dorm 2509 Pacific terrace Viewliner Sleeper: 62034 Sea View Viewliner Sleeper: 62007 Colonial View Diner: 8507 Dinette: 28xxx Amfleet II Coaches: 25052 24046 25050 1163 MHC 1407 MHC [On in DC] xxxx [On at Phila.] 18 P-42 42
Traveling in fall is a treat. The foliage is near peak, and reveals rich hues of reds, greens and yellows, as we race southward toward Lynchburg. After a brief stop at Trenton, we cross the Delaware River and enter the 4 track raceway that was formerly the Philadelphia region of the Pennsylvania railroad. Due to restrictions of the E-60 Electric locomotive hauling our train, we are humming along at a mere 90 MPH. Most regular electrically hauled trains here are allowed 120 MPH, but the E-60 and combination of MHC cars restricts to 90.
CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE:
We arrive on-time into Amtrak's massive 30th street station. Just as we come to a stop, we lose our Lights as the E-60 shuts down the Head-end power plant in preparation to uncouple from our train. Paul and I stay on the platform for about 10 minutes, observing our engine change. Although the overhead wire [catenary system] extends as far south as Washington, DC, The Crescent, most Florida trains, as well as Chicago and Harrisburg trains all change from electric to diesel power here. Our relatively quiet E-60 is replaced by a brace of General Electric P-42 diesel locomotives, charged with hauling the Crescent the rest of the way to New Orleans. Each unit is rated at 4200 horsepower, and the combination will provide 8400. Car-inspectors are busy in the pit [the area below the high-level platform] aligning couplers, and connecting cables, Intercom and signal lines, as well as the 480 VOLT MA that supplies heat and light to our passenger cars. This is a place where a second of inattention can cost you life or limb. I have nothing but admiration for those men and women who work down there doing the grunge Work of railroading. The Train crews get all the glory, but without the car inspectors trains wouldn't run. Next time you see them, why not stop and thank them for all the dangerous work they do, every day.
What on earth is Head-end power?
Back in the steam locomotive days, passenger trains were heated by some of the steam used to power the locomotive. Steam was sent through the train under pressure, and the last car's steam valve was usually just cracked open to provide for an outlet. As steam locomotives gave way to Electric and diesel locomotives, these successors were fitted with steam generators to provide heat for the train. Larger terminals had their own steam plants to heat the trains prior to the locomotive coupling on. As in all things mechanical, nothing is perfect. Steam would leak from the couplings between the cars, and leaks could, and often did develop under the cars themselves. This made for a great show, especially in below- zero weather, when the atmosphere was so dry the steam would condense in huge clouds that could be seen rising from between, as well as under the cars. My earliest memories of this were on the New York and Long Branch railroad in New Jersey. Every winter I could count on making a few bucks shoveling snow. I would promptly spend the proceeds of my day's labor on a train ride, usually to Ashbury Park and back. While waiting in the station for my Pennsylvania RR train, a Jersey central train would stop on its trek to Jersey City. One particularly bitter cold winter day around dusk, I observed the steam rising from between the cars as the train was stopped in the station. People looked so safe and warm inside, while winter winds roared just outside those windows. It gave me a warm feeling inside, and probably is another reason why I'm a railfan. Back in those days, railroading was a multi-sensory experience. While that may be somewhat true today, we lost a lot with the switch from steam to electric train heating. Most passenger cars back then had their own batteries and generators to provide lighting. The generators were either belt or gear-driven through the car's axles. Some railroads used a 117 volt source on the locomotive to provide lighting power.
Nowadays, Both electric engines, as well as diesels have HEP, or Head End Power. On electric locomotives, an MA [Motor-alternator] is used. It is very similar in operation to the Motor generators used to power elevators in buildings. It takes some of the single-phase power from the locomotive's transformer to turn a motor that drives a 3 phase alternator, which, in turn supplies power for heat, light and air conditioning to the attached passenger cars. On diesel locomotives, a separate alternator is driven, either from the main propulsion engine, or and a auxiliary diesel engine.
Paul and I run upstairs while the pit and train crew are completing their brake tests. He was impressed with the size of the place. I wisely decide to get back on the train, rather than go up to the suburban level for SEPTA timetables. It was a very wise choice, since we depart just minutes after reboarding.
Diner in the diner:
This is probably the greatest part of a train ride. Let's face it, where else can you get a full course meal, and watch the countryside pass by at the same time? We sit down for dinner just after departing Wilmington. Although all but the last vestiges of daylight have faded, houses and street lights in little villages and hamlets are coming on as our waiter brings salad and rolls. They have changed the menu since my last trip. Paul opts for the catfish, while I choose the filet mignon. Our main courses arrive, as we race southward, crossing the Susquehanna and Gunpowder Rivers. After a couple of cups of coffee, and pie a la mode for desert, we have arrived in Baltimore. Time really flies when you're having fun! Between Baltimore and Washington, we return to our coach and watch the darkened countryside fly by.
We arrive on the lower-level. We will get a new engineer and train crew here, as well as an MHC [Material-handling] car added to the rear of our train. I snap a picture of our coach attendant here. I wish I had gotten her name. She was so busy. Just a couple of years ago, there was 1 attendant PER COACH, now; they have cut back, at least on this train to 1 for 3 coaches! Paul and I hit the platform to record our consist.
A freshly painted AEM-7 is on the adjacent track, not well enough lit [Unfortunately] for a photo. Some of the other passengers join us on the ground for a smoke break. After a few minutes, people begin boarding. A good crowd gets on here, and we have almost a full coach leaving DC. Almost half of the passengers in our coach are for Charlottesville, VA, which reinforces the fact Amtrak needs to add MORE trains, instead of removing the few that it has.
We depart Washington; pass through the tunnel, than re-join the freight Line at old `RO' tower. We stop briefly at Alexandria, before turning west-south-west to join the NS former Southern line. Major work was completed last year here [AF interlocking]. We pass several Virginia railway express commuter stations, before stopping at Manassas. Until recently, this was the end of VRE passenger service. Earlier this year it was extended a couple miles south to Broad Run.
Our stop at Charlottesville consumes several minutes as we discharge almost half of our coaches passengers. A large number of who appear to be college students headed for the University of Virginia. Of further note is the crossing here with the CSXT's line which is the route of Amtrak's CARDINAL that runs between Washington, DC and Chicago, Ill. I'm considering taking that route to Chicago early next year.
We race southward toward Lynchburg. It is a dark night with no stars visible. The only light comes from passing streetlights and houses, and these are few-and-far between, since we are in the country.
I place a cell phone call to our hotel to have the jitney meet us at the station. Shortly after, we arrive on time at Kemper street station. I was sorry I called for the ride as early as I did, since I wanted to wait and watch the Crescent depart south. Our ride showed up almost as soon as we arrived and our driver graciously waited, at my behest for the Crescent to depart.
This was a short trip. We arrived in Lynchburg on Sunday, and here, on Thursday, we are leaving.
It's been a blessing to have trained with M/A Com so many times over the past couple of years. Each one of their trainers has their own unique way of imparting what most people would consider to be a very dry subject. I've met all of them, and had the privilege of having trained under Nancy, Tank, Dave and Rick, as well as getting to know Dru who does the registrations. All of these good people are a credit to their company. Leaving this time is a bittersweet experience, since this training class is probably the last one I'll take in some time. I'm really going to miss Lynchburg, as well as the good people at M/A Com.
While the trip down is at more civilized hours, the return requires an early-morning wake up due to its 5:51 AM departure from Kemper Street. I get the wake-up call at 4 AM, and since I packed before turning in last night, all I have to do is get dressed, grab a cup of coffee and check out. I call Paul, and we head downstairs at 4:30. Since the hotel shuttle is not running, the hotel clerk orders us a cab to take us to Kemper Street. It is still pitch-dark outside, as the cab cruises the city streets. A young lady, a practitioner of the world's oldest profession, is plying her trade on a cold Fort Ave.
Pinprick holes in a colorless sky:
"Pinprick holes in a colorless sky, Let insipid figures of light pass by, The mighty light of ten thousand suns, Challenges infinity and is soon gone. Night time, to some a brief interlude, To others the fear of solitude. Brave Helios wake up your steeds, Bring the warmth the countryside needs." --From the MOODY BLUES, days of future passed
I am reminded of the words of the above poem, as I stand on the dark, cold platform of Kemper Street. The birds are beginning to awaken, as the first streaks of dawn appear. A northbound freight roars through.
Since my first trip down, Kemper Street station has undergone a major renovation. One, I might add, it was in sore need of. The upstairs has been converted into a bus terminal, for both local and long-distance busses, while Amtrak has taken over the lower-level. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll let the photos speak for themselves. Now that the station has been renovated, a few more trains going there would be a big plus for this large city.
Our onsist north:
Locomotives: 195 G-E P42 160 MHC 1435 BAGGAGE 1232 DORM 2516 VIEWLINER 62014 Imperial View VIEWLINER 62038 Spring View DINER 8512 CAFÉ 28022 South Bend Club COACHS Amfleet II 25021 25104 25038 xxxx 2xMHC's xxxx
The Northbound Crescent is running 30 minutes down this morning, a deficit it is likely not to recover from. At 6:30 the Crescent arrives. Paul and I board and sit again on the left side. Seating is no problem. lots of empty seats to choose from. Since we checked our larger bags, all I have is a laptop. We stow our carry-on stuff, as well as our coats in the overhead, and proceed to the dining car where breakfast is just beginning to be served. Paul has the French toast, while I opt for my old standard of eggs, potatoes, and sausage. We keep our eyes open for Amherst station, where we watched the Southbound Crescent roar through Monday night. It appears out of the autumn morning gloom just as our breakfast arrives.
The sun is trying it's best to break through the clouds, and succeeds as we finish breakfast. The Blue Ridge is on fire with a spectacular autumn foliage display, in and of itself well worth the cost of a train ticket. Our stop at Charlottesville is longer than expected, which exacerbates our 40 minute deficit. Our stops at Culpepper, Manassas, And Alexandria goes well, and we arrive almost on time into Washington.
During our stop, the crew informs the car inspectors of a brake problem on the Café car. Several brake applications do not resolve the problem, so they wind up putting the train in emergency a few times. This apparently rectifies the problem, and we depart almost 45 minutes down.
Passing Ivy city, I describe for Paul the famous Pennsy vs. B&O locomotive races. Back in the old days, the Pennsylvania's crack GG-1 powered Washington-New York Congressional was scheduled to depart at the same time as the B&O's National Limited, which was powered by a president-class Pacific steam locomotive. With consists very similar in size and weight, the race was on as soon as the communication signals blasted their two short tweets. The GG-1 would start drawing power to the BOP-BOP of popping relays, While the Pacific chugged to catch up. Passing `K' tower, both engineers were pulling for all they were worth, but, as happens in arm-wrestling, the steam engine inched ever so hopefully ahead, and than collapsed as the GG-1 drew more amps from the overhead catenary and charged ahead, leaving the steamer in the dust. It was a show one never forgot, and one, I'm afraid I was born just a little too late to see in person. The races were well depicted in TRAINS magazine, and Dave Morgan wrote a memorable piece concerning them entitled "Railroadings camptown races". Now the B&O and Pennsylvania are fallen flags, gobbled up by Amtrak, no more competitors, no more races. How much we have lost in the name of progress!
Even without a competitor to race, our engineer peels back the throttle on our P-42 duo, and by the time we clear Ivy City we are well above 70 MPH. We make our brief stop at Baltimore, then Wilmington, before arriving on Track # 2 at 30th street in Philadelphia.
30th St Philadelphia
Here we reverse the power-change of Sunday, going from Diesel to electric. I had recorded the consist on a piece of paper that got mislaid, so I don't have the number of our replacement E-60. Paul And I run upstairs and gather a large cache of SEPTA suburban timetables. We also [Paul's treat] pick up what has become a regular Philadelphia indulgence, a warm and tasty Auntie Anne's Pretzel we re-board, and depart Philadelphia 30 minutes down. After a brief stop at Trenton, we arrive in Newark, claim our baggage, and prepare to catch an NJ Transit train back home to Westfield.
Paul really enjoyed his first Amtrak trip. I think that, as in his case, if most people who had never ridden a train try it, they are likely to come back.
Lets see, it's T -3 months, and counting to my regular trip to Chicago. Hopefully, I will finish the last two METRA lines, and the `L'! Till next time.......