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Trip Report


Seven Amtrak Trains in Seven Days

December 11-17, 2002
Section 1 of 3

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Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Starting My Journey

I started my whirlwind tour of six Amtrak routes and seven trains east of the Mississippi from my client's office located just one block from the United Nations. From there I walked to the #7 train at 42nd Street/Grand Central. Just as I ducked into the station entrance, the light rain that had been falling turned into a downpour. I rode the #7 train two stops to the end of the line at Times Square.

There I transferred to a #1 train running on the 7th Avenue line. I rode that train one stop to 34th Street. Arriving at New York's Penn Station via the underground station, I thankfully did not get drenched by the rain. Many others were walking around Penn Station dripping wet.

Since I would be traveling in a sleeper on Amtrak's train #97 the Silver Meteor, I was entitled to use the Club Acela Lounge. The Club Acela lounge (like its cousin, the Metropolitan lounge) is a nice, quiet, and relaxing oasis in the middle of a busy train station. I checked in with the attendant at the desk in the first class lounge about 5:45 PM, and settled down to relax for an hour or so until boarding.

As it was still rush hour, both the main station and the lounge were quite busy. In fact they were busier than normal, due to the fact that several Boston-bound trains were running late. Train #2168, the 5:00 PM Acela Express, was running one hour late. Train #2170, the 6:00 PM Acela Express was running a half hour down, and Acela Regional (now renamed "Regional") train #94 was running 50 minutes late.

Thankfully my train was still listed as being on time. Sure enough, at about 6:40 PM the lounge attendant made the boarding call for Train #97. Several fellow passengers and I assembled at Gate 12-West, where they held us for another five minutes until the train was ready for boarding.

Now a quick word about car numbers. Each Amtrak long distance passenger car carries two numbers, this does not apply however to short distance passenger cars. The first number is the actual car number used for inventory purposes and is usually painted on the side of the car. This number is generally a five digit number, with the exception of the Heritage Diners. I've used this number in my consist listings.

Then there is a train-specific number (TSN). This number is assigned to each passenger car based upon its position within the consist of a particular train. This number is displayed on a variable sign located next to the door of each car. It is a four digit number. The first two digits are the same as the train or route number. The second two digits represent the car number for this trip. The crew uses these numbers for various things. Additionally when you book a sleeper this number will appear on your ticket so that you can tell which sleeper is yours. I will show the TSN in italics throughout my report to distinguish it from the actual car number.

The Silver Meteor

The crew had positioned the train so the rear of the dining car sat right opposite the bottom of the escalator. This basically meant that both sleeper passengers and coach passengers had an equal distance to walk to reach their respective cars. I walked forward one car to my Viewliner Sleeper "College View", TSN 9710 The car attendant, Larry, collected my ticket before allowing me to board. I dropped my luggage in Standard Bedroom #2, which would be my home for the next 19 hours. To see a layout diagram of Amtrak's sleepers click here.

Then I quickly walked the front half of the train to record car numbers. Penn Station sits partially under Madison Square Garden and partially under the surrounding streets. This meant that thanks to the heavy rain, I needed to dodge several areas of dripping water. To my surprise, while the consist had three Viewliner sleeper cars, the normal crew dorm was missing from the train. The crew was apparently sharing the sleeper "Scenic View" TSN 9712 with paying passengers. After jotting down the numbers, I returned to my room to await the train's departure.

Train #97's Consist NYP-WAS:

  655  HHP-8 Engine
 1162  Baggage
62033  Viewliner Sleeper
        "Scenic View"
62005  Viewliner Sleeper
        "Cape View"
62006  Viewliner Sleeper
        "College View"
 8501  Heritage Diner
        "Silver Tureen"
28002  Amfleet II Lounge
25076  Amfleet II Coach
25065  Amfleet II Coach

We missed the advertised 7:00 PM departure by three minutes. Considering that other trains on the Northeast Corridor were running much later than that, I considered our 7:03 departure as basically being on-time. As we entered the Hudson River Tunnel, Larry came by to introduce himself. He also confirmed my destination with me and asked me if I was familiar with the room and all of its controls. I assured him that I was and that he didn't need to give me that whole speech.

Larry then told me that he expected that they would serve dinner around 7:45 to 8:00 PM. He also mentioned and apologized that there were no movies in the sleeper. Larry had come north with movies, but apparently someone had broken into the sleeper while it was in the yard and stolen the two tapes right out of the VCR's.

My sleeper was one of the Viewliners that has had its original door locks replaced with the same style found on the Superliner sleepers. The car also had the original rollup shades on the door and window looking into the hall, replaced with curtains. Personally I prefer the old shades and locks. I liked the shades as they keep the room much darker at night than the curtains do. This is especially important, thanks to the rather bright florescent lighting in the halls on the Viewliner sleepers.

Additionally with regard to the old style locks, you could close your door and it would stay closed without your needing to lock it. With the new locks, your door won't stay closed unless the door is locked. Since you can only lock the door while you are in the room; it won't stay closed whenever you leave the room. In fact, Larry had a very high tech method to keep his room door closed when he wasn't in the room. He used a very large piece of duct tape stuck to both the door and the wall to keep his bedroom door closed.

Around 7:12 PM or so, we popped out of the Hudson River Tunnel on the New Jersey side, and right into the pouring rain. Just five minutes later, we were pulling into our first stop Newark, New Jersey. As we entered the station, I noticed the northbound Silver Star (train #92) on the adjacent track. Engine #610, an E60MA, was pulling 14 cars. The Silver Star pulled out of Newark at 7:20 PM headed for its final stop at New York's Penn Station, only four hours late.

We departed Newark four minutes later at 7:24, only one minute off the advertised. A little while later, I noticed that the Garden State Parkway was living up to its name. Everyone was essentially parked on the southbound roadway. While it was a Friday night, and a rainy one at that, I was still a little surprised to see 5 lanes of red tail lights going absolutely nowhere at that late hour. Forget stop and go traffic, these cars were not moving at all.

A few minutes later, around 7:40 Larry came by to announce that dinner was now being served in the diner. Since I already had my shoes on in anticipation, I headed immediately to the dining car. There I was seated with two ladies, both of whom were also traveling alone like me. One was on her first Amtrak trip ever, going down to Charleston, SC. The other was headed for DeLand FL, and had made several Amtrak trips in the past.

We all decided on the filet mignon for dinner. This was my first time sampling the new standardized Amtrak menu. The last time I had traveled on an Amtrak long distance train, each train still had its own unique menu. While it wasn't the best filet mignon I've ever had, it wasn't half bad. The chef had cooked it exactly like I had requested. It was served with a baked potato, along with waxed beans. I rounded out my meal with a nice piece of strawberry topped cheesecake for desert. I washed it all down with a Chardonnay wine and a glass of water.

Both of my dinner companions also agreed that the chef had done a good job with dinner. I then pointed out the fact the chef had cooked this standing in a kitchen that's only about 3 feet wide, while the train was rolling along at close to 90 miles per hour. They both agreed that under those conditions he had done a very good job, as neither had ever tried to cook while in a moving, bouncing, and swaying kitchen.

The dining car crew of three seemed well-organized and the service was reasonably prompt. One waiter didn't seem too happy, but the other waitress along with the steward, worked with alacrity and a very pleasant attitude. One took the drink order, one served the salad and diner rolls, while the steward took the orders. It was a technique that seemed to work very well, as everyone was served reasonably quickly.

While we were eating, the train pulled into Trenton, NJ. Oddly enough we came in on track #1, which is normally used by northbound trains. A NJ Transit (NJT) train with the new Comet V cars sat on track #4, the normal southbound track at Trenton. A Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) train sat on the other side on the platform from the NJT train. After a brief stop we left Trenton at 8:02 PM. About 20 minutes later I returned to my room, having finished my dinner.

Philadelphia came and went at 8:45 PM 8 minutes late, followed by Wilmington, Delaware at 9:10 PM now 9 minutes late. It finally stopped raining as we were coming into Wilmington. We stopped next at Baltimore at 9:59 down 8 minutes again, before continuing on to Washington DC where we arrived right on the money at 10:30 PM. I took the opportunity to go outside, and walk the rear half of the train to record the rest of the consist.

Our new High Horse Power (HHP-8), Acela look-a-like engine, #655, came off here and was replaced with engine #17, a P42. I also got a quick look at the temporary bracket that Bombardier has welded onto the yaw dampers, something that both the HHP-8's and the Acela Express power cars needed. Then one of the pit crew chased me away from the area. We also picked up three Amtrak Material Handling Cars (MHC's) here at DC. With the changes in DC, our new consist is reflected in the list below.

Train #97's Consist WAS-JAX:

   17  P42 Engine
 1162  Baggage
62033  Viewliner Sleeper
        "Scenic View"
62005  Viewliner Sleeper
        "Cape View"
62006  Viewliner Sleeper
        "College View"
 8501  Heritage Diner
        "Silver Tureen"
28002  Amfleet II Lounge
25076  Amfleet II Coach
25065  Amfleet II Coach
3 MHC's added at WAS and taken 
     off at JAX

We departed DC at 11:02 PM, that same magical 3 minutes we had in New York. Less than 5 minutes before we departed, I heard the conductor calling to the flagman who was still in the baggage car. It seems that some bright young couple had left all of the bottles for their baby in the bags that they had checked. So faced with the prospect of a screaming baby for the next 12 hours, the poor flagman had no choice but to rummage thru the various bags, until he was able to locate the correct piece of luggage. He finally came to the rescue about 7 minutes outside of DC.

I had asked Larry to make up the top bunk in my room earlier in the evening, which he had done for me. As it was now approaching 11:30 PM, I decided that it was time to lower the bed and hit the hay. When I'm in a Viewliner standard bedroom, I prefer to sleep on the shelf. This allows me to still have the seats setup below, yet I can still look out the upper windows while lying in bed.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

While I do recall waking up and recognizing the area where the tracks run in the median of I-195, an Interstate Highway in Richmond proper, I have no recollection of actually stopping at Richmond station. After that, it was morning before I awoke again.

I was somewhere north of Charleston, SC when I started to get up for the morning. Right after we departed Charleston at 8:12 AM, I headed down to the diner for breakfast. Since I love French toast, I of course opted for the traditional Railroad French Toast with sausage. This was all washed down with coffee and orange juice. Again service was swift and the food was hot and tasty.

My breakfast companion was a gentleman headed for Orlando. He asked me if I knew whether anyone had won the Florida lottery from the day before. The jackpot was rather large, so I'm guessing that he held a ticket. I told him that I had no clue, and hadn't bothered to look at the paper that morning. He asked where I had seen a paper, and I told him that my attendant had placed a USA Today under my door early this morning. He said that there had been no papers in his sleeper, so he decided that he would ask his attendant what had happened to his paper when he returned to his sleeper.

While I was still at breakfast Yemassee, SC came and went at 9:06 AM. We were running almost 20 minutes down at this point. The engineer also screwed up here and didn't stop the train when the conductor told him to stop. As a result the sleepers missed the station entirely. Since Yemassee is a small station, the conductor had planned a "double spot" here; or what essentially is one stop for the sleepers and one stop for the coaches.

The second sleeper thankfully had stopped in the middle of the grade crossing right after the station.˙While the station would have been better, at least the sleeper was in the grade crossing as opposed to the dirt and gravel alongside the rail bed. Traveling in that second sleeper was an elderly lady who used a rolling walker. She was detraining here which is why they wanted to place the sleeper in the station.

Her family quickly drove their cars through a small dirt road from the station, to bring the car close to the main road. They then jumped out of their cars to help her get across the road, while the train still blocked the crossing.

When the conductor finally gave the engineer the highball, the engineer asked why they weren't going to make two stops. The conductor told him, that since he had rolled through his first stop request, that the sleepers had missed the station entirely. Therefore there was no need for a double spot.

Rolling on from there, we pulled into Savannah next. Making up a little time here on our stop, we pulled out at 9:56 only 12 minutes down. We left Jesup, Georgia next at 10:53 having lost 2 more minutes, now 14 minutes behind schedule again.

Me posing in Amtrak diner Silver Tureen on Train #97 Shortly after Jesup, I wandered back to the diner in the hope of taking a few pictures of the inside of the car. A friend had requested a few pictures of the diner's interior. I asked the dining car steward if it would be ok for me to take a few pictures, he said ok. While I was taking a few shots, the steward came by and offered to take a picture of me while sitting at a table, an invitation that I accepted.

The steward had impressed me the night before with his service and attitude, but now I was even more impressed. While many Amtrak employees are nice enough to offer to take a picture, it still is above and beyond the call of duty, and it's the mark of an employee who understands that making the customer happy always comes first.

My Viewliner sleeper, with the Amtrak Jacksonville station as a backdrop Shortly after returning from the diner, I started packing up my belongings in anticipation of arriving at my stop. Larry came by a little while later and offered to take my suitcase up to the front of the car. We pulled into Jacksonville, Florida at 12:10 PM 11 minutes early, having made up our 14-minute deficit and then some. As I detrained, I slipped Larry a well-deserved tip as I shook his hand. I then grabbed my suitcase, which Larry had already placed on the platform and headed into the station. I also took a few pictures of the train as I headed for the station.

I was once again impressed with my sleeper attendant Larry, when he came into the station a few minutes later to talk briefly with one of the other passengers. This passenger like me had been in his car and had detrained here. I knew from a conversation that I had overheard at breakfast that this gentleman was traveling to Houston. Sadly, he was heading out there for a funeral. Larry had come in to tell him how to check his bag with the Redcaps and then take the local bus into town, so he could get some lunch and not have to sit in the station for 5 hours while waiting for the Sunset Limited to arrive.

Here was one more Amtrak employee who went above and beyond the call of duty for one of his passengers, especially since he walked all the way into the station to speak with the passenger. This was a trend that by and large I was to experience throughout my trip.

Jacksonville Skyway

I relaxed for a few more minutes in the station and watched the Meteor pull out. Then I wandered over to the baggage check-in area, looking to have them hold my suitcases for me. Since my small shoulder bag slips right over the handle for the main suitcase, they considered it as one suitcase. Since they normally charge a buck fifty per bag for storage, this saved me a dollar fifty.

I was fully prepared with instructions for getting around town, thanks to Kevin Korell having provided me with this info before I started my trip. However by the time they finished checking in my bag, I turned around to see the bus pulling out. So I sat and relaxed for a half hour to await the next one.

When the next bus arrived, I boarded and rode it to the last stop on the run, FCCJ center. This stop is also a major interchange point for several bus routes, and the Jacksonville Skyway. The Jacksonville Skyway is a monorail that runs through downtown Jacksonville. I paid my fare and then rode the first monorail that came, which was headed to Convention Center Station.

Old Jacksonville Train Station, now a convention center Seaboard Coast Line Orange Blossom Special sits alongside Convention center


Interestingly, Convention Center Station is located right next to the old Jacksonville Train Station, which has been converted into a convention center. Just to remind people of the building's original purpose though, a Seaboard Coast Line passenger car named the Orange Blossom Special still sits outside. Additionally freight tracks still run right by the station.

Switches on Jacksonville Skyway, currently lined for route over St. James River Jacksonville Skyline, with the red roofs of Jacksonville Landing visible along St. James River

I then doubled back to Central Station, where I switched to another monorail heading up and over the St James River. I rode that monorail to the end of the line, Kings Avenue, and then returned on the same train. When I reached Central Station where I had switched trains before, I got off and walked about three blocks to the Jacksonville Landing a small mall on the Saint James River, where I ate a late lunch at a Sbarro.

I then walked back to Central Station, the Skyway station where I had gotten off earlier. From there I rode the monorail back to my original starting point, FCCJ Station. The bus that I needed pulled in about 15 minutes after I got to the terminal. I boarded the bus and settled in for the long and roundabout trip this bus makes on its return to the Jacksonville Amtrak station.

Continued in next section

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