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Trip Report

Farewell to the Pennsylvanian

January 19-26, 2003
Section 2 of 3


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What to do when bad things happen:

Those of you who have seen the "dummies" books will recognize the above line. Basically, the books give you disaster-recovery scenarios that are designed to salvage as much as you can. I may just try and invent my own disaster recovery scenario here.

Question: What is THE WORST thing that can happen on a train trip?

Most of you would chime in: A derailment of the train YOU ARE ON. Okay, I can buy that, it would not be pretty. But then, what is the NEXT worse thing that can happen on a train trip?

Answer: THEY CANCEL THE TRAIN and put you on a BUS to your destination.

Did it happen? Yes. Did I survive? Keep reading!

Of all the modes of mass transportation, the bus has got to be the bottom. Seats too small, no legroom, communal toilet (shared with 65 others), travels on public highways, can get into wrecks much easier than trains, you name it. Into that mix of undesirable attributes, add the following ingredients: Snow is falling, and it IS sticking. The temperature rides in the 20's, making highway travel hazardous. Prior to leaving the train, the café car attendant is asked for something that can hold vomit from a kid throwing up in the car ahead. (There is a stomach virus circulating, and for the past week, I've been like Howard Hughes, staying away from people, and washing my hands every 5 minutes. I have gotten very 'germ phobic' lately and avoided anyone who was sick in order to stay well on THIS TRIP.)

Now, in addition to the road hazards, there is a sick kid riding the bus with me. NOT GOOD. All the passengers are herded into the Cleveland station to await the bus(es). While there, the poor kid keeps throwing up. He is surrounded by a hoard of relatives trying to console him. ONE bus finally shows up at 11:30. One of the passengers, when informed that we were going to be bused quipped "If I wanted to ride a bus, I would have taken the bus!" O, how aching true! Everyone will be going on THIS bus. We stow our luggage underneath. I bring my laptop with me, and take a seat about 5 rows in back of the driver. As we board the bus, there are speakers, about 12" directly over my head playing 'soul' music. Now, don't misunderstand, I like all kinds of music, from classical to Christian Rap. I even own a few Barry White CD's. Everything would have been fine, until someone in the back of the bus asked the driver to turn up the volume, and one of the families of the boy who got sick decided to sit next to me. The only defense possible was to fall asleep, which I promptly did. I awoke briefly in Elyria, as the driver was asking one of the passengers for directions into the town. This was repeated at Toledo and South Bend, where I again briefly awoke, then fell back to sleep again. I finally woke for good as we were on the Chicago skyway bridges. We arrived in front of Union Station at 7:30 AM CST, almost 5 hours late. Although I hate the bus for all the reasons stated above, I must commend our driver for delivering us safely to Chicago.

Disaster recovery 101:

Eating a hotel charge for the first night was bad enough, but now, I have to re-think my whole schedule. I had planned to go to Mc Henry on the 5:55 AM METRA train, which was long gone. I decided to grab a taxi to my hotel, get cleaned up a bit and from there, decide where I'll go today. I didn't want it to be too late, but there were places I just had to go. I would get some sleep on the fly, and arrive back at the Hotel at about 9:30 PM.

Except for 1 trip, I've been to all these places before, and for brevity will only mention a few things in passing.

Day one, January 20, 2003, Martin Luther King Day:

First destination: Antioch! METRA, like most commuter rail is running a regular weekday schedule today. I decide today I will go to Antioch first, return to Chicago, take Heritage to Joliet, and return on the Rock back to La Salle St, then Catch the Brown line 'L' back to my hotel.

Antioch IL, holds a special place in my heart. I decided to return here at least once a year. Its rural charm cannot be described in words. Like so many towns in the Midwest that are not dissected by an interstate highway, it lives in a kind of time-warp, having things like Dunkin' donuts and souped-up gas stations with attached convenience stores, but retaining the old charm of a tree-lined Main street with cute little shops. I stopped by the visitor's center, next to City Hall to tell the people what a lovely town they have. While I suspect they are well aware of it, I'm sure they were glad to hear it from someone from afar.

Main St, Antioch Antioch town hall

Returning to Chicago on the flip, I have only a few minutes to catch the heritage train to Joliet. This line is not scenic, so it doesn't matter if you ride it in daylight, or in the dark. My main goal was to get to Joliet and ride back on the Rock, and to spend the layover exploring Joliet Union station. It is bitterly cold here, and a slight breeze intensifies the effect by adding wind-chill into the mix. It is 10 degrees, and dropping.

Destination board: OTC Walking through the station, one gets a taste of its former grandeur. There is now a restaurant/bar downstairs, just around the corner from the Amtrak ticket office. Upstairs is a Joliet police department satellite office, and the METRA ticket office. And outside, there is a diamond (at-grade railroad crossing) since it is too warm inside, I walk around outside the station. There is a headlight approaching from the East. Suddenly, a double-stack train 'bangs the diamond' accelerating as he heads out! If you stand close by the crossing, you can feel the ground shake as the wheels bang over the frogs. Cu-chunk, cu-chunk, ca-chunk, ca-chunk! Man, if that doesn't send a chill up your back, you ought to dig a hole and bury yourself in it! One other observation: the 'green' color of signals seems to appear a more piercing hue of blue in the bitter cold. Next, Amtrak's Ann Rutledge appears, first banging the diamond with a P-42 some horizon coaches and an Amfleet I Café. He pauses briefly to discharge a few Joliet passengers before departing for Chicago on the line I just came in on.

Before I know it, my METRA train is boarding on the former Rock Island side of the station to whisk me back to Chicago. As I board, I try to imagine what I might have seen, standing on this same spot 40 years ago. Let me see.... GM&O, Rock Island. Perhaps the "Abraham Lincoln" or the "Rocky mountain Rocket" Now, if someone only had a time machine Hmmmmmmm. I arrive in La Salle St Station at 8:43 PM, then catch the CTA Brown line 'L' back to my hotel, and what would prove to be the BEST nights sleep I get on this whole trip!

Day two, January 21, 2003, Tuesday.

I plan a slightly less ambitious schedule today, deciding to eschew the trip to Mc Henry for a few extra hours of much-needed sleep. I leave the hotel at 10:00 and take the Brown line 'L' back to the loop. It IS cold outside; a clock on a bank I pass indicates the temperature is 7 degrees. This is at 11AM! Boy, I wish we'd get weather like this back home once in awhile! I grab a quick lunch at the CUS food court, than cross Madison Street to catch the 11:30 AM METRA train to Harvard.

Frigid day in Harvard, IL Harvard is another town that holds a special charm for me. I just have to spend some more time here than is allowed by a flip back to the City. The layover here is much shorter than was the case in Antioch yesterday, and it's not wise to venture too far from the train, that is, if you intend to return on the same equipment you came out on. The cute little towns and villages along this line are reminiscent of happier days, when life was so much simpler. My trainer Nancy from M/A Com in Lynchburg grew up in the town of Mount Prospect, so I take a few pictures from the train to pass along to her. How blessed she is to have lived here! My mom grew up in Milwaukee, WI. And met my dad in Chicago, back in the 40's both of them were wonderful people. There is something special about people from the Midwest. They are optimists for the most part, with cheerful dispositions and a love for life. Maybe that explains why I love coming here, and returning to my roots, so to speak.

Bi-level on bottom, leaving Union Station, shot from Bi-level arriving at Ogilvie Arriving back at Madison Street, I decide to get a soda to hold me over on the trip to Kenosha, WI. While in the Concourse, I discover an Auntie Anne's, and buy a pretzel and a drink. I'm surprised to see Auntie Anne's this far away, but do enjoy the soft, warm pretzel. During my layover here, I tale a few pictures. This must have been some station before it was 'modernized' with the addition of a glass skyscraper. There is even a sign in the hallway that reads "To C&NW trains".

Plaque in Ogilvie Transportation center, honoring its namesake I board a semi-express to Kenosha. While the train is full, I have an empty seat next to me. It's been almost 3 years since I've ridden this line. I first rode it in April, 2000 as a way up to my Aunt and Uncle's. Then, again in October 2000 we rode it to Waukegan for Stephen's graduation from Great Lakes. This is also the only METRA line I have ridden with my wife. This trip was a last minute substitution for the trip to 91st St Street, which is one that can wait. The ride up is fast, and the train is only about 1/3 full. On arrival in Kenosha, I briefly step off the train, just so I can say I planted my feet on Wisconsin soil for at least a few minutes. The return back to the city arrives on time at Madison Street, and I walk across to Union station to watch the circus of Amtrak boarding trains 30 & 48/448 The Capital and Lake Shore limiteds, respectively.

I have expounded on the boarding process for coach passengers by Amtrak in Chicago sufficiently in past reports, so I'm not going to beat a dead horse again, just mention that it is still broken and is in serious need of fixing. And the fix would be simple. Just get the trains into the station 45 minutes prior to departure, and begin boarding right away. This way, people would be seated as soon as they arrived, instead of being punished, so to speak, for arriving early. Also, there is absolutely NO valid reason for checking a persons ticket TWICE, once at the gate, and again at train side. Amtrak is NOT an airline, and their boarding procedures in Chicago should not be like the airlines, yet they continue, in spite of many complaints I have made to them.

I walk back to the 'L' and catch the Brown line back to my hotel. On the walk back, I do a review of the days events and I am satisfied I had at least ridden to Kenosha, a trip I hadn't done in almost 3 years.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003:

Today is leaving day, but due to the fact I will head home on train #44 The Pennsylvanian tomorrow morning at 1:00 AM, I will have a large part of today to spend riding. I sleep in till almost 9:00 AM; finish last-minute packing, and then head down to the breakfast bar for a couple of Danish, and a coffee and OJ. It seems bitterly cold outside, and the doorman at hotel tells me that it is only 4 degrees. Again, without the risk of someone reading this trying to commit me to the local mental hospital, I came for the cold, and I'm glad it is cold. Bone-biting, teeth chattering, frigid, and BITTER. This is MY kind of weather.

Prior to check-out, I get a brainstorm. Since it will cost me $8.00 to secure my luggage, and it might be better to get home a little earlier, I call Amtrak to see what it would cost to upgrade my ticket to first-class and return home on #40 The Three Rivers instead. After a long (10 minute) wait, the agent finally answers. I am informed that I have to pay a $30.00 penalty to change any part of my itinerary, then another $260.00 for the single Viewliner room. Way more than I want to spend. I might have gone for the upgrade if the price were, say around $150 I would have gone for it, since it would have given me a free place to store my baggage, as well as a quiet place to sit and relax while I waited for my train. Well, I'll just have to skip it on this trip. I check out of the hotel, and drag my luggage downtown on the Brown line 'L'. Since it is almost 11:00 AM the 'L' is not crowded, and carrying baggage on board causes only minor problems, those associated with carrying it, vs. taking a taxi back to downtown. While so much easier, it is proportionally more expensive, and besides, I can use the exercise.

Arriving at Union station, I lock my luggage up in The Smarte Carte lockers near the Amtrak baggage claim carousel. The attendant helps me with change, and informs me I must be back by 8:00 PM, or risk not being able to get my stuff. I assure her I will be back on time, and then decide that will prevent me from going to Fox Lake. Bummer. The last time I rode that line was 2 tears ago, and I wanted to ride it in daylight this time. If I rode to Fox Lake, I would have had to skip Orland Park, which I concluded was a 'MUST RIDE' on this trip. Going to Fox Lake, either before, or after Orland Park would have meant arriving back to Union Station AFTER 8:00 PM, and possibly losing my luggage. Since I could not afford to do that, so I caught the 11:45 AM Orland Park, figuring that would be my last METRA trip until next year.

METRA TRAINS, 7 & 14 Chicago (CUS) to Orland Park, Ill and return

View from the upper section of a bi-level I did not to get to board as early as expected, since the equipment for this train was delayed due to frozen switches outside of CUS. Once the train came into the station, I boarded a newer vintage bi-level for the trip out.

What this line lacks in scenery and rural charm, it makes up in terms of being in the middle of some real "nuts and bolts" railroading. It is the route of the former Wabash railroad that used to go as far as Decatur, IL. Now it ends in Orland Park at 179th St. One of the last lines to come under total METRA control, improvements are now going on to upgrade it to modern standards. Also, there are plans to extended it a few miles further southwest to Manhattan. Shortly after leaving CUS, we pass a large Norfolk Southern Piggyback terminal. We cross the CSX at Forest Hill, the CN at Ashburn, and the IHB at CP Ridge. I can't recall any lines near home that have passenger service that cross so many other railroads at grade!

Originally this line was operated out of Dearborn Station, and the mileposts reflect the distance from there. We make brief stops at Wrightwood, Palos Park, and proceed to 179th st. The train flips back to town as train #14 so I return on the flip, arriving back in CUS at 4:04 PM.

Lisle and Return:

Back in Union Station, METRA's rush hour is kicking into high-gear. In a way, I really wanted to go to Fox Lake, but the return would be well after 8:00. I didn't want to sit around the station until 1:00 AM, so I did a little quick research. Armed with the knowledge that the Aurora line is the busiest, and has the most frequent service of any of the METRA lines run out of CUS, I grabbed a timetable to see if I could make a quick flip to Aurora and back. Yes, it is doable; however it only gives me 20 minutes leeway. Too close. Examining the return trips, I determine that if I catch the 4:28 PM and get off in Lisle, There is a reverse express that will put me back in Chicago by 5:36 PM! Here we go! Although the connection to that flip at Lisle will only be 2 minutes, I'm willing to gamble. The BNSF runs a good show, and I would not be disappointed on this trip!

The Westbound trip is a FULL train, no standees, at least in my car, but it was a very full train. Since it was close to departure by the time I decided to ride it, I had to get on without counting cars, or seeing if we were double-headed. I have a strong suspicion we were double-headed, since the train was large, and we were more than able to maintain track speed. We made just 3 stops, and than shot down the middle track as an express all the way to Downer's Grove.

An interesting note is these Bi-levels seem to have different seats and glazing than the other two types I've ridden. Also, the toilets are very small, so small, in fact, you have to squeeze yourself inside to open or close the door!

METRA has a slogan "The way to really fly" and fly we did!

The fact the line is a speedway notwithstanding; our engineer knew how to run a train. We shot down the mainline passing one station after another. Mileposts passed like slats on a picket fence! Before I knew it, we arrived in Lisle, 2 minutes ahead of schedule. I walked through the pedestrian tunnel to the eastbound platform and the return train wasn't even in sight yet. Within the next minute, a headlight appears from the west, and the train stops at the station, now, we are headed back to Chicago as a pure express with no stops, our engineer peels back the throttle, and away we go. If the trip out was fast, the return had it beat. We raced past the suburban stations at least a 79 MPH clip, arriving in Union station almost 5 minutes early! What a show! And what a way to end this year's trips.

Continued in next section

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