(Click small photos to see larger; all larger photos are less than 27K)
This trip began as yet another METRA adventure to Chicago. Its original purpose was to finish riding the final two METRA segments, namely Orland Park and 91st St. As well as returning to re-visit Harvard and Antioch (you can't go to Chicago and skip these two treasures), plans were to leave in February, and to either ride the 'Cardinal' from Washington, DC or take the 'Twilight Shoreliner' to Boston and thence the 'Lake Shore Limited' through the Berkshire mountains to Chicago. Either route would have been new territory for me. That's what I've been trying to do, add new trackage to at least one way of my trip to Chicago. I was successful last year, Going out on the 'Lake Shore Limited' and returning on the 'Three Rivers' which added a new route. Fortunately or not, as the case may be, Amtrak put a wrinkle in my plans.
Back in November of last year, the railfan rumor mill got hold of a story that it could not validate, that train number #43 'The Pennsylvanian' would be truncated to Pittsburgh, effective with the January 27, 2003 schedule change. The reason for this was Amtrak was virtually eliminating all their express business and management thought the train would carry more passengers as a New York-Pittsburgh train. This is déjà vu, since 'The Pennsylvanian' started out in life as a New York-Pittsburgh train. It was extended to Chicago in 1998 to handle the newly-created express service that former Amtrak president George Warrington had hoped would save the railroad. Warrington's replacement, David Gunn found the express service a drain, rather than a revenue booster, and decided that most, but not all the roadrailers would come off Amtrak trains effective with the January 27, 2003 schedule change. Additionally, Amtrak felt that 'The Pennsylvanian' was not carrying a sufficient number of passengers west of Pittsburgh to continue the service.
Rumors are interesting creatures. They are very easy to start, and once they begin circulating, they take on the character of a snowball running downhill. They just cannot be stopped until they are either validated, or dismissed. Being the perennial skeptic, I waited until I had more facts. If, in fact they were truncating the Pennsylvanian, then I had to ride it all the way to Chicago one last time, if not I'd wait until February, and go via Washington on 'The Cardinal.
I received an e-mail from a trusted friend early in December that the decision was made to in fact cut 'The Pennsylvanian' back to Pittsburgh with the January 27th timetable change. I made reservations while Amtrak had a 35% off sale going on, and the round trip would only cost $182.00. A good deal. The other lines would have to wait until next year, so I could ride 'The Pennsylvanian' one last time round trip, between Philadelphia and Chicago.
What have they done to 'my' train?
The last time I rode 'The Pennsylvanian' it left Philadelphia at 6:35 AM. This meant that riding it necessitated leaving Newark at 2:30 AM, using train #67, the 'Twilight Shoreliner' as the connection. To accommodate connecting express from other North-South Amtrak trains, they pushed its departure up almost two hours to 8:20 AM. This, in theory, would allow one to leave Newark at a more civil hour of 6:54 AM, using 'The Carolinian' as the connection. The only problem with this is that the connection afforded by the later train gives you only 15 minutes! Much too close for me. So, I opt to do it the old way, and tough out a 4 hour layover in Philly. There are worse places to be. And, I can (and am) using the down time to good advantage, typing the beginning of this report as I sit waiting in the nice warm terminal.
It doesn't get any 'bitter' than this!
If you have read my previous reports, you know how much I like to railroad in the bitter cold, and bitter cold it is, and not only that, THE BEST IS YET TO COME, since Accu-weather is predicting that one day in Chicago this week, the daytime HIGH temperature will not break ZERO, that's right folks 0, zip, nada! My kind of weather.
I have been disappointed the past two years, since it was in the 40's and 50's respectively in Chicago. I purposely went in February in the hope it would be cold, VERY COLD, but came back letdown. This year I may get not only the bitter cold I want, but a snowstorm to chase me home on Thursday. That part we'll have to wait and see. But tonight it is bitter cold. A cold front blasted through yesterday afternoon, dropping temperatures to 6 degrees last night. Although not quite that cold tonight, its 12 degrees when I leave a warm house and what would be a nice warm bed with my wife and our 3 animals. Although I love their company, I can have it every night, I can't ride to Chicago every night in the bitter cold. (I can dream, can't I?)
Into the Night:
My wife and daughter wisely decide to stay at home while my son, Ryan drops me off at Cranford to catch the last NJ transit local to Newark, Penn station. I wisely decide to layer up against what is a very cold night. I am warm in spite of standing out on a cold platform for 10 minutes. We arrive in Newark, and I proceed to the upstairs waiting room to await the arrival of train #67, Amtrak's 'Twilight Shoreliner' that will carry me on my first leg to Philadelphia.
Newark, Penn station takes on a whole different character late at night. There is the usual collection of the unfortunate homeless, seeking shelter from the bitter cold outside. I am thankful that I have a warm home, a job and the other things God has given me in his love and mercy, if not for his grace, I could very well be one of them, I can't begin to imagine what it's like to be homeless, let alone in weather like this. While I love it, largely because I can choose to be indoors or out and have proper clothing, these poor souls must suffer so much. It always amazes me how countries as rich as this can have people sleeping in train stations, or worse on the streets, while others have so much. Along with the homeless, there is a small knot of people who appear before each train leaves. Most are quiet and orderly, but there is the usual contingent of twenty-something's (both male, and female) that must use every four-letter word in the book at concert-hall pitch in order to prove to the rest of the world just how 'great' they are. They could be a lot more convincing if they conducted themselves like ladies and gentlemen.
In my preoccupation with the people circus, I almost missed the animal kingdom's performance. When the station had emptied out, leaving me as the sole human occupant of the track 3 & 4 waiting room, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. A mouse, actually two of them, appeared out of the heating grilles under the benches on what appeared to be a foraging mission. After the first one appeared, it was followed by another. They soon found the remains of a bag of Doritos on the floor, and proceeded to remove the bits of chips to their berthing area. The two put on quite a show, squeaking to each other as they dragged the chips across the floor. Undoubtedly they were arguing amongst themselves who would get what. Having enjoyed that show, I was peering out towards track #1 to see if I could spot train #66 arriving. More ground-level movement caught my eye. This time, I saw two rather well-fed rats foraging on the PATH platform. In all my time spent in Newark, I have never seen so many rats and mice. Perhaps the cold weather had driven them indoors, but I'm not complaining. They put on quite a show that helped me pass what would have otherwise boring 2 hour layover.
Train 67 to Philadelphia:
At 2:40AM Train #67 arrives on track 3. I board and settle in for the slightly longer than 1 hour sprint to Philly. It's nice and warm inside, while an outdoor thermometer in Trenton informs me it is now 9 degrees. Our consist to Philadelphia was:
The ride to Philadelphia was on time and relaxing. There were plenty of seats, and the train was about 60% full. I step off the platform, and take the escalator up to the main waiting room to begin my 4 hour layover. Like every other place, Philadelphia is totally different in the middle of the night. During the day, there is the hustle and bustle of people headed hither and yon, while at night, especially on a night as cold as this is, the homeless can be found sleeping on the benches. They don't overrun the place; it's just that their presence is more obvious tonight (this morning) than I've noticed in past overnight layovers here. I decide on an early breakfast at the McDonalds, which is open all night. Afterward, I begin typing under the soft glow of the chandeliers, suspended on long chains from the ceiling, some 98' above me. I finish quite a bit, so I guess my brain is functioning, even though my body is starting to zone out. Although the layover was long, I was so engrossed in writing that, before I knew it, it was almost boarding time.
Romance in PA announcements:
Having a high ceiling and hard walls, 30th street has a PA system with at least 4 (count 'em, 4) echoes. Although announcements made through it demand concentrated listening, they are somewhat understandable. Having said that, there is a certain romance in listening to the names of far-away places reverberate off the walls of that magnificent place. Far-away places with romantic names like Lancaster, Harrisburg, Altoona, Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Alliance, Cleveland, Elyria, Sandusky, Toledo, Elkhart, South Bend, Hammond and Chicago, Not too romantic you say? You have to understand, that to a kid, about 10 years old, enamored with everything about railroading, those same words conjured up visions of far-away places I could only dream about. I first heard some of those city names echo off the hallowed walls of Pennsylvania Station in New York some 43 years ago. To me, they are romantic, in that hearing them on this bitterly-cold winter morning, are the hearing of a dream fulfilled. Although this dream is fulfilled today, and has been many times in my adult life, I still have my boyhood dreams of going to sleep on a crack limited, headed west toward Chicago on a bitterly cold winter night.
A boarding announcement is made at 8:05, and I am among the first to descend the stairs down to #43. We have a good load of Amtrak express cars, along with some roadrailers and MHC's on the rear, so it is a hike up to the coaches. I ask the Conductor where business class is, and he sends me to the back of the café car.
Turns out I am the sole occupant of the rear of this car! Almost as much privacy as a sleeper. It was worth the extra $22.00. Although it is an Amfleet I and has less legroom than the Amfleet II ahead of us, I stretch out across 4 seats facing each other and have plenty of room. I settle in and Bob, our café attendant introduces himself. Before I get too carried-away, below is our consist leaving Philadelphia, 30th St:
170 General-Electric P-42
??? General-Electric P-42
MHC's Numbers missing
due inaudible tape
54011 Horizon I
25025 Amfleet II
20254 Amfleet I
We make an on-time departure from 30th Street, and roll westward along the Former-Pennsylvania Main line. Some of the original stops have eliminated, and We rock and roll along. The track is in very bad shape here and is in sore need of a fixing. The ride on NS later will put this to shame. #43 creates its own blizzard as it sucks snow off the roadbed, and flings it past my window. I spot a few railfans taking pictures, and if anyone who was track side would e-mail me, I would gladly pay the postage, as will as give you some compensation for a copy of that photo. We pause briefly in Lancaster, then, at Harrisburg, we have a 40 minute dwell to add express trak and roadrailers. I walk outside and enjoy the crispness of the air. My guess is it's about 25 degrees, and the wind pulls that down well below that. I walk the length of the train, and observe the crew re-coupling on the roadrailers.
Departing Harrisburg, we enter that world that is the fabric of my dreams. Harrisburg always seemed to be the barrier I could never get past until a few years ago. Raising a family and putting kids through school while Denise eschewed a career left no money for 'fun' trips. I kept the dream alive by pouring over timetables on cold winter nights at home, dreaming where I wanted to go when the cash became available. Sure, I had been to Chicago by train in the 60's as well as 1982, but it would be 20 years later until I went just for fun.
In the 60's I would often go to Harrisburg on the last train, which arrived there around 2 AM. This way, I could watch the parade of eastbound limiteds, changing crews, and exchanging Diesels for GG-1 electrics. Always a great show. Harrisburg is also the end of the overhead electrified zone, a place where trains lose their overhead tether, and cast out on their own under diesel power. Although trains no longer change locomotives there (power is now, and has been for some time, changed in Philadelphia), it will always be, at least for me, a great frontier.
Over the mountains:
We cross the frozen Susquehanna River at Rockville, where the line to Buffalo leaves the main. We have the snow blowing across the windows, adding a wintry look to the splendor of the Pennsylvania Mountains. By the time we leave Altoona, the snow has reached the top of the rail and provides a great show as we crest the Horseshoe curve, and begin our descent toward Pittsburgh. At Pittsburgh, we get a new engineer and train crew. They will be with us until Toledo. Leaving Pittsburgh, I catch some on and off sleep until Cleveland, where the extended dwell awakens me. It is snowing moderately, probably lake-effect from nearby Lake Erie. As I sit upright, the crew comes back with some troubling news. Shortly before we arrived in Cleveland, there was a freight train derailment about 20 miles east of Toledo, Ohio (Milepost 266). There is a detour around it, and last time that something like this happened, they detoured the train, it arrived in Chicago almost 4 hours late. We are awaiting instructions from the Toledo east dispatcher. At this point, I consider my reservation for a hotel in Chicago a loss. I had to pay for the night, and could not cancel unless I did so 24 hours prior to the date of my arrival. Oh well, there is consolation, in that I may be able to add some new trackage to my record book.