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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
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
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
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
was running one hour late. Train #2170, the 6:00 PM Acela Express was running a half
hour down, and
(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
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
Sleeper "College View", TSN 9710 The car attendant, Larry, collected my ticket
before allowing me to board. I dropped my luggage in
Bedroom #2, which would be my home for the next 19 hours. To see a layout diagram of Amtrak's sleepers click
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
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
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
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
62033 Viewliner Sleeper
62005 Viewliner Sleeper
62006 Viewliner Sleeper
8501 Heritage Diner
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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