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Trip Report

Atlanta in Eleven Hours

November 7-9, 2002
Section 2 of 2


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Friday, November 8, 2002 (continued)

In Atlanta: The World of Coca Cola

We got to the World of Coca Cola attraction at about 3:30 PM. A sign said that they would be admitting their last guest an hour earlier than normal at 4 PM rather than 5 PM, due to a private function. It was a good thing we did not go to the zoo, nor choose to ride more MARTA before coming here.

Our second time there, it was still a lot of fun. You start out at the third floor, and work your way down through the exhibits and short films about the history, making, bottling, and advertising of Coca Cola.

On the second floor, before coming down into what I always call the obligatory gift shop (you cannot exit anything these days without being sent through the gift shop), you get unlimited tastes of various soft drinks. The first room features all of Coca Cola's products sold in the United States. The big draw here is a machine on which you place an empty cup, which activates (with some interesting sound effects) something that shoots soda out in an arc from a hole in the wall right into your cup. It was here that we got ourselves bloated, but it was refreshing since the temperature outside was an unseasonably warm 70 degrees. We were also mindful of the fact that too much caffeine might hurt our chances of sleeping on the next train ride.

A second soda sampling room has drinks from around the world that are made by Coca Cola, but are not readily available in this country. After this, we had no problems walking right through the gift shop and out into the plaza.

In Atlanta: Dinner, Underground Atlanta, and more MARTA

It was now about 4:15 PM, and so we had a little under 4 hours before our northbound train would be departing. We knew that we had accomplished all we would be able to do, at least in daylight. We went back into Underground Atlanta, which has a large food court area spanning two buildings.

Many of you may know that when you go to food courts, the various ethnic restaurants usually try to entice you with free samples of their chicken, dipped in various sauces. I have never seen it taken to such an extreme as we saw at Underground Atlanta. There were 5 different restaurants of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Cajun, and other origins all very actively calling people over to sample their chickens. Some said they would give two types of meat or meat with two different sauces for the price of one. The competition was fierce, but in so doing, one could walk the entire food court once and be satisfied enough not to have to purchase anything. But we needed well-balanced meals including side dishes. Michael opted for (after his 5 chicken samples) a kids hamburger meal from Dairy Queen. I went for that unresistable chicken in Terriyaki sauce. They sold me, and they knew what they were doing. Unfortunately for the restaurants, each customer has to pick once place in which to ultimately spend their money.

After dinner, we walked through Underground Atlanta one more time, and then re-entered the Five Points MARTA station. We would kill the remaining time riding as much as we could.

The MARTA heavy rail system has essentially two lines, a North-South (Orange) Line and an East-West (Blue) Line. All North-South trains run southward to Hartsfield International Airport, and north to either North Springs or Dunwoody on an alternating basis. The stations between the Lenox Square Mall and Dunwoody are on the Northeast Line. The East-West trains run between Indian Creek to the east, and the Hamilton E. Holmes station to the west. There is a short spur line just west of the Ashby station running northwest to a single stop, Bankhead. This is known as the Proctor Creek Line. Bankhead trains run to various termini along the East-West line, but never beyond the King Memorial.

All MARTA stations are marked by not only the station name, but also a code that depicts which line and how many stops it is from Five Points. For example, the airport station is also known as S7, since it is on the South Line and is seven stops from Five Points. King Memorial is E2, 2 stations east of Five Points. The Bankhead station on the Proctor Creek Line is P4. Northeast Line stations are NE7 (Lenox) through NE10 (Doraville). Click here for a system map of MARTA's rail lines and station designations.

At the Five Points station, on both lines there is an island platform between the tracks, and wall platforms as well. This is the only station where the doors open on both sides of the train. There are stairways, escalators, and elevators in all quadrants of the station making it easy to change between trains in any two directions.

The first train that came was headed eastbound, so we rode out to Indian Creek first. Once more we went across the platform to a waiting westbound train. We rode this train all the way to the westernmost station, Hamilton E. Holmes (which used to be called Hightower).

This station does not appear to have been intended to be an endpoint station; by far it is the shortest of the four major lines. It is the subject of studies to extend it further westward, to at least meet or pass the I-285 beltway like most of the other lines do. This station only has wall platforms, but the "outbound" platform did not appear to be in use, as the trains cross over to what would be the "inbound" platform before they terminate. Thus there is no island platform to cross to make the next inbound train here; the train that just came in is the next one out.

Once more we travelled eastbound towards downtown. We got off at Ashby, where I intended for us to ride the short distance on the branch line to Bankhead. But then looking at my watch, it was already 6:30 PM. We had a little more than 1-1/2 hours to make our AMTRAK train. I became nervous about going out to Bankhead, and also ditched my plans to ride the Northeast line to Doraville and back. We would simply go to Five Points, switch to any northbound train, and go back to Arts Center for the 23 bus back to AMTRAK. We did all that, and in fact we were lucky to make our bus which departed well ahead of the time listed on the schedule. We were let off the bus across the street from the AMTRAK station, and entered the building at 7:25 PM or so.

Back at the station, we first got the suitcase back, and then went to the rest rooms to change our clothes, which we had been wearing since Thursday morning. While Michael was changing, the CRESCENT came into the station, a few minutes late. The station became a scene of bedlam as if often does, with its small confines causing waiting outbound passengers to be in the way of arriving passengers. During the layover, the train is serviced, and mail cars are added.

The CRESCENT, Train #20(8), Atlanta, GA to Washington, DC

Boarding began at about 7:45 PM. All coach passengers getting on here were put into the rear coach. We were all condensed into the rear third of the coach; the front sections were used for passengers boarding down the line. The consist was essentially the same except that this train had just one sleeper whereas our southbound had two. The two MHC's added in Atlanta for this run were the same that our southbound train had dropped off that very morning.

This was the first time we encountered one of the rebuilt lounge cars that has the glass-enclosed 24-hour smoking lounges. I must say I did not smell any smoke, so they did a good job. Unfortunately though, half of the seating capacity is lost for non-smokers, so it is more than likely that any food purchased will have to be consumed at your seat. Our northbound consist:

  180   P-42 locomotive
  164   P-42 locomotive
 1451   Material handling car
          from New Orleans
 1208   Baggage
 2510   Crew dorm
62009   Viewliner sleeper
          "Evening View"
 8553   Heritage diner
28006   Amfleet II lounge
          "Richmond Club"
25085   Amfleet II coach
25012   Amfleet II coach
25066   Amfleet II coach
          (we sat here)
 1516   Material handling car
          from Atlanta
 1439   Material handling car
          from Atlanta

Well, our northbound trip was not as perfect as the southbound one. We stayed on time through Georgia, but the making of a flag stop at Toccoa, and a double stop at Clemson, SC put us about 5 minutes down. Our departure from Greenville at 11:04 PM was four minutes off the advertised. Still, not too shabby.

At that point, I turned in. Michael was already asleep. We slept a lot better on this trip than we had on the previous trip, most likely from utter fatigue and having walked around Atlanta in warm weather. The ease in which we fell asleep can also be attributed to the full milk chugs from the lounge car that each of us consumed in an attempt to negate all the caffeine we had earlier ingested at the World of Coca Cola.

Saturday, November 9, 2002

Aboard the northbound CRESCENT

The next thing I knew, the dining car attendant was coming through, making his first call for breakfast. The time was 6:42 AM, so I had gotten 7 decent hours of sleep. I missed Spartanburg, SC and the entire North Carolina, as well as the southern Virginia stops. I slept a little more, and then awoke for good after we had just left our Charlottesville, VA station stop. We were still running about 3 or 4 minutes late.

At 7:29 AM, we came to an unexpected and quick stop. Time to break out my scanner, which I had not used much on this trip. The crew confirmed we had gone into emergency. Nobody knew why. The crew checked inside and outside the train, but no reason for the emergency application was found. We were rolling once more at 7:42 AM. To his credit, the conductor did get on the speaker, and he explained to the passengers exactly what had happened and what the crew was required to do before we could proceed.

Because of that incident, our stops in Culpeper and Manassas were 16 and 15 minutes late respectively. But when we got to Alexandria, we magically were on time, thanks to padding. Manassas is the last northbound stop where one can board, so from Alexandria onward it is discharge-only.

We pulled into Washington Union Station, Track 25, at 9:40 AM, making this our second consecutive trip that arrived at our destination 10 minutes early! Hats off to Norfolk Southern RR who dispatched us beautifully, and to AMTRAK's schedule planners who padded the timetables.

Washington Union Station in Daylight

Arriving in daylight this time, I did not know or care whether the station had resolved its electrical woes on the low-level platforms and their escalators. Soon after we got off, Train 82 came in from Virginia and stopped on the track across the platform from the CRESCENT we had just left.

We had a late breakfast at the McDonald's. We could have easily made the unreserved Train 82, which was on time and boarding nearby, but decided to hold onto our reservation and take 88 as planned. Judging from the line that snaked out of the seating area and as far as we could see down the station's Claytor Concourse, I felt it would be best to wait for an hour or so.

We killed the time by walking around the station, stopping in the large bookstore, and watching a demonstration of a digital television in the station's main hall. On the TV was a performance by the group No Doubt. This 42-year-old teenybopper had a hard time convincing his son, 32 years younger than him, that the lead singer is Gwen Stefani, and NOT Madonna. Then I had to convince a man standing near us who was the same number of years older than I of the same thing. Then it turned out that this performance had been taped from the Tonight Show, because we next saw a host with an oversized chin. Washington Union Station would not be a good place to hear any of his anti-AMTRAK so-called "jokes".

Train 88, it turned out, was slightly delayed coming from Virginia, so the wait was a little longer. The station personnel did their pre-boarding ritual once again. Again I was not going to partake of the pre-boarding privilege for families with children, mainly because the crowd had assembled at the gate already and it would have been difficult to get through them. But the station attendant who was handling this gate saw Michael and waved us onward, asking people to let us through.

Acela Regional, Train #88(9), Washington, DC to Metropark, NJ

Having our choice of seats meant walking up to the front of the train, knowing fully well that those creatures of habit would crowd into the rear cars when general boarding was called. Why people would want to act like herded cattle instead of having some breathing room is beyond me.

For the fourth time in as many train movements on this trip through Washington, we were on Track 25.

On one of the higher-numbered tracks to our right was the SILVER STAR, Train 92(8). It departed Washington, DC at 11:30 AM (14 minutes late) with six Roadrailers in tow.

There were some problems with the HEP from our engine, as the lights kept going out and coming on again. This delayed us a bit further because mechanics had to be called to the engine to check out the problem. Train 88 finally departed Washington at 11:41 AM, sixteen minutes late. Along the way, we lost the lights a few times more, but the train kept moving at speed. The cast of characters for the final phase of our journey:

  919   AEM-7 locomotive
44601   Amfleet I coach
44019   Amfleet I coach
44679   Amfleet I coach
          (we sat here)
21281   Amfleet I coach
82503   Acela Regional
44243   Amfleet I coach
85003   Acela Regional cafe
81502   Acela Regional

Other than loss of power a few times, there were no further incidents on our way north. We remained 16 minutes late, and arrived at Metropark at 2:21 PM.


Overall, it was a quick but productive trip. The eleven hours spent in Atlanta between trains was well-spent. I achieved my goal of getting the new MARTA trackage. My disappointment was not having enough time (or a way to get there) to visit Stone Mountain Park, which has a mountain with four faces engraved on it, similar to Mount Rushmore. Stone Mountain has a 5-mile Scenic Railroad ride around its base. The downside is that one has to pay a steep admission price into the park in order to ride it. And the MARTA bus that normally serves the park had stopped running for the season. Perhaps next time....

I was impressed with the timekeeping of our two CRESCENT trains. Maybe there is hope after all that the host railroads can improve their handling of AMTRAK trains!

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