Florida-New Orleans-Chicago Trip 2003
April 16-27, 2003
All of the streetcars are bright yellow, and have reversible wooden seats inside. The operator of the second streetcar did the same thing in changing the seats and then he took down the pole on one end and attached the other to the wire above. He then boarded what was now the front end, and collected our fares. We paid cash fares; mine was the only adult fare as Michael is a child and my parents as seniors qualified for the reduced fare.
The next station, Centro Ybor, had a two-track station with an island platform. This is the main tourist section of Ybor City, and where we gained many more passengers. We had to sit here while waiting for an oncoming streetcar. The streetcars here all pass left-handed. We then proceeded west a little more along 8th Avenue, and then turned left (south) along 13th Street. After we left the station at 7th Avenue & 13th Street, we passed the streetcar barn on our right. There were a few similar cars sitting on the tracks outside the depot.
Past the depot, we came upon the CSX tracks. The streetcar tracks go through an S-curve of sorts, so that they can cross the freight tracks at a right angle. The operator is required to stop here and call somebody on his phone; I assume that permission has to be given by CSX to cross their right-of-way. At this location however, there does not appear to be much, if any freight service since this is primarily the lead to Tampa Union Station. This track is used mainly by AMTRAK's PALMETTO as it doglegs into the station.
Once we crossed the CSX track, we then began running adjacent to Channelside Drive. This street first runs alongside the Port of Tampa, a cruise ship port, and then by the Florida Aquarium and the other Channelside Attractions. There are several stops located along this stretch, and a few more passing sidings that were used skillfully as the cars passed. We had to wait at the Channelside stop for an oncoming car to enter that station. We then turned left and went around the St. Petersburg Times Forum, which is the local venue for the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning. There is a stop there, and then one more at the city's transportation hub, the Southern Transportation Center. Some downtown hotels and office buildings, and other attractions, are accessible from this station as well.
Since we planned to return to Ybor City on the same car, the operator let us remain on board. Here the cars go a little beyond the last stop before the operator changes his pole and flips the seats. We got a little non-revenue trackage thanks to his generosity. We also flipped our own seats. As soon as he was ready, we were headed in the opposite direction. We paid our cash fares once more.
Our trip back was a similar 25-minute ride. I was impressed by this operation. For what is essentially a single-track operation, they run a lot of cars on the system at once, and they schedule them well so that they can pass on the sidings with a minimal wait. Although the streetcars have a historic ambience, the operators have modern equipment at their disposal, such as radios and telephones and more contemporary fare collection equipment.
Less than an hour after we had started out from the Centennial Park station in Ybor City, we arrived back there once more. The operator posed outside the car for a photo with me, and then he prepared for his trip in the opposite direction once more.
After we left the streetcar, we drove a few blocks within Ybor City, and had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, the local affiliate of the Spaghetti Warehouse chain.
Sunday, April 20, 2003 through Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Part 13: Relaxing in Florida
The next four days were spent relaxing and enjoying Florida. This period included celebrating first my birthday and then Michael's the day after that. It was also my first birthday observed outside of New Jersey since I was eight years old.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Part 14: AMTRAK Thruway Bus #6098, Tampa, FL to Orlando, FL
All too soon, our week in Florida had drawn to a close. Today, Thursday, was our departure day on what would be a very roundabout four-day journey home via New Orleans and Chicago. To get to the trains, we had to ride a Thruway bus to Orlando.
The SUNSET LIMITED runs three days a week. Because it originates in Orlando shortly after the northbound SILVER METEOR is scheduled to call there, the two trains share the same Thruway bus (6098) from Florida's west coast.
My parents drove us to Tampa Union Station once more, only this time I got to keep Michael instead of leaving him behind as I did the previous Friday.
The bus arrived about five minutes after it was scheduled to depart. About fifteen people boarded the bus in Tampa. When we got on, there were a lot of people already on board, having gotten on at points between Fort Myers and the Pinellas Parkside Mall outside of St. Petersburg. This was the busiest Orlando Thruway bus I have ever seen. It was, after all, a very busy time of year on AMTRAK's trains, too.
The bus and driver were the same as I had on the ill-fated 6092 trip the preceding Friday. Therefore I knew something about the bus that no other passenger did -- one of the left-rear tires had only been installed six days ago in Lakeland.
We left Tampa about ten minutes behind schedule, after the driver and some of the continuing passengers had finished their cigarette break.
This time, the trip was uneventful. The stop at Lakeland was no more than the promised "six or seven minutes". The driver told us that Train 98 was reported to be running about 20 minutes late, but it was expected to be later by the time it reached Orlando. The reason was that Train 89(23), the southbound PALMETTO, had just left Lakeland at 10 AM (over 2-1/2 hours late) and it was expected to have a meet with 98 somewhere south of Winter Haven, thus impacting the latter. He did not say anything about Train 1 though; of course it originates in Orlando anyhow. Traffic on I-4 was not that bad, so when the bus arrived at the Orlando station at 11:47 AM, we were 13 minutes early.
Part 15: In Orlando
Not long after we got off the bus, the southbound SILVER STAR, Train 91(23) arrived, 16 minutes late. While the driver was unloading the luggage from the bottom compartment of the bus, I ran to get the train's consist:
183 P-42 locomotive 1735 Mail/Baggage 2503 Heritage crew dorm 62005 Viewliner sleeper "Cape View" 62020 Viewliner sleeper "Moonlight View" 8532 Heritage diner (Timoinsa rebuild) 28021 Amfleet II lounge "Tampa Club" 25068 Amfleet II coach 25019 Amfleet II coach 25039 Amfleet II coach 25030 Amfleet II coach
The Thruway bus on which we had arrived is not designed to connect to Train 91, although somebody who wanted to take the chance could have made a dangerously-close transfer.
The inside of the station was crowded with arriving and departing passengers from Train 91, as well as passengers waiting to depart on Trains 98 and 1. The southbound SILVER STAR did its scheduled 10-minute stop, and departed from Orlando at exactly 12:00 noon, still 16 minutes down.
Once that excitement was gone, Michael and I went inside the station and had the sandwiches and sodas my mother had given us. I picked up some reading material, a new National AMTRAK timetable near the ticket window.
I knew it would not be long until the next train, the northbound SILVER METEOR, Train 98(24). It was now reported to be running about half an hour late. I was surprised then when at 12:15 PM, we heard the unmistakable horn of a P-42 engine. When I looked out at the tracks, a Superliner consist was passing by in the southbound direction. This was our SUNSET LIMITED, deadheading from Sanford and headed somewhere south of Orlando to be wyed.
At 12:30 PM, a long announcement began, telling passengers headed north on Train 98 where to stand. With all the noise in the station, nobody could hear what the woman was saying. She was listing various stops, so that passengers would know where to stand to board the correct coach. One of the coaches would be carrying only New York City-bound passengers. A conductor walked around the platform, collecting tickets from coach and sleeper passengers before the train was even in sight. That's the first time I saw something like that, although this practice did not achieve its goal of speeding up the boarding process.
The northbound SILVER METEOR finally pulled into the station at 12:41 PM, exactly half an hour behind schedule. A good number of passengers detrained, putting the station back into a state of chaos. There appeared to be a single line under the south end canopy for coach passengers, despite the announcements for them to stand at different locations.
During the train-time bedlam, I took the opportunity to walk the length of this train and saw:
49 P-42 locomotive 1203 Baggage 2521 Heritage crew dorm "Pacific Cape" 62045 Viewliner sleeper "Tower View" 62010 Viewliner sleeper "Forest View" 62017 Viewliner sleeper "Majestic View" 8550 Heritage diner-grill 28019 Amfleet II lounge "Charlotte Club" 25066 Amfleet II coach 25070 Amfleet II coach 25001 Amfleet II coach 25052 Amfleet II coach
Interesting to note here is that the lounge car was the same one that had been on Train 91(18), and it had been switched into a totally different consist since then.
The sleeper passengers had boarded, and the baggage crew was done working the train, long before the line of people at the coach end of the train had boarded. The station work took a total of 17 minutes, which is seven minutes longer than is allotted by the timetable. Train 98 finally departed Orlando at 12:58 PM, now 37 minutes late.
The station was no longer as crazy as it had been. Now there were just a few passengers who had arrived on Trains 91 and 98, and those who were planning to depart on Train 1.
During the station confusion while 98 was in, the Thruway bus had departed, now as 6091, for points west in Florida. This run is a continuation for passengers coming off Train 91, and it is not required to wait for those arriving on 98 from the south.
There was not much time to wait before the next excitement of the day, the arrival of our train. This was in fact the Superliner consist that had passed in the other direction at 12:15. It was approaching the station at 1:08, and came to a stop at 1:10 PM. Compared to the loads of passengers that get on and off the Silver Service trains, the number of people waiting to board was relatively small.
Part 16: The SUNSET LIMITED, Train 1(24), Orlando, FL to New Orleans, LA
There was plenty of time as this train rolled into the station early to get its entire makeup:
47 P-42 locomotive 1711 Mail/Baggage 39021 Superliner II Transition Dorm/Sleeper 32070 Superliner II sleeper "Alabama" 32080 Superliner II sleeper "Idaho" 38066 Superliner II diner 33038 Superliner II Sightseer Lounge 34090 Superliner I coach 34139 Superliner II coach <- * 31519 Superliner I coach/smoker * We were here
There was a lounge attendant on the platform to greet us and seat the passengers in various coaches. He did not arrive on the train, as I had seen him standing around the station during the earlier confusion with the SILVER METEOR. He wore a route-specific SUNSET LIMITED shirt, but no nametag. We were directed to the middle of the three coaches. The passengers in this coach all seemed to be destined to either New Orleans or Los Angeles, which are the two highest density stops on the route. Passengers to intermediate stations before and after New Orleans were in the coach in front of ours.
For now, nobody was officially being seated in the coach behind ours, the smoker. The smoking coach is supposed to be air tight, in that the cancerous fumes from the downstairs smoking lounge are not supposed to reach the passengers on the upper level. On all three Superliner-equipped trains we rode on this trip, the smell of cigarette smoke on the upper levels of the smoking coaches was unmistakable, which may explain why this attendant did not seat anyone back there unless they requested it.
The SUNSET LIMITED departed from Orlando on time at 1:45 PM. A first for me was seeing the Orlando, Winter Park, and Sanford passenger stations from a Superliner window. The timetable appeared to be padded, as we arrived into Sanford at 2:24 PM, six minutes early. Our departure from there was at 2:28 PM, which was two minutes hot. Hopefully nobody missed the train.
During the first hour of our journey, I neither heard announcements by our coach attendant, nor the rest of the crew as we left Orlando. I wondered if we once again were in a coach that had malfunctioning speakers. The problem with this is that when announcements are made from another coach, the crew member making the announcement hears himself or herself, but has no idea that they are not reaching one or more cars elsewhere on the train. The people not hearing the announcement don't know they are missing anything since they don't hear it. So at least one entire carload of passengers has no idea what is going on, which is serious when safety announcements are made, or when dinner seatings are called.
We passed by the AUTO TRAIN terminal at 2:29 PM. It appeared that everything was running smoothly here. The train was positioned with its two P-40 engines at the point for its 4 PM northbound departure, and vehicles were being loaded onto the auto racks.
I knew from the timetable that had Train 97(23), the southbound SILVER METEOR been on time, we would be passing it somewhere between Sanford and Deland. This is always an issue on what is primarily a one-track railroad, although there are plenty of long passing sidings so that meets are usually scheduled with ease. However I called Julie the AMTRAK Robot and learned that Train 97 was running about 47 minutes late. We would therefore pass it somewhere between Deland and Palatka.
The SUNSET LIMITED's schedule appears to be more padded than that of the Silver Service trains, which share the same tracks between Orlando and Jacksonville. Our arrival in Deland was eight minutes early, possibly in part to our not having a meet with 97 at the scheduled time. Our station work was done quickly, only this time I heard the conductor say on the radio that we had to sit awaiting the proper departure time. By my watch, our 2:53 PM departure was still a minute early.
At roughly 3 PM we heard our coach attendant doing a mike check over our coach's public address system. I guess he was aware now that we had not heard anything at all since we started out from Orlando.
People who had boarded at Winter Park, Sanford, and Deland by themselves were seated with other people who were traveling alone. I heard some of them wondering why the coach attendant put them next to another person when there were so many empty seats. The attendant, who to his credit was responsible himself for three coaches, said people were free to move elsewhere as long as they let him know, moved their seat check with them, and were willing to go back to where they had originally been placed should a family board. The double seats were being held out for families and couples who would be boarding down the line. The attendant said that after Jacksonville, "it will get interesting".
At 3:12 PM I heard one side of a conversation between the Deland station agent and the crew of 97. There were some passengers coming into Deland on Train 97 who needed to get to Daytona Beach. AMTRAK contracts with taxicab companies here rather than a bus company, so five individual cabs were being ordered to accommodate the passengers.
We came to an approach signal at 3:20, and four minutes later we came to a stop. We sat for five minutes, obviously waiting for the tardy 97 to pass. While I did not get all of its consist since it was moving, I do know that it had P-42 (#134), a baggage car, Heritage crew dorm (#2505), Viewliner sleeper (#62047), Heritage diner (#8509), an Amfleet II lounge, three Amfleet II coaches, and another Viewliner sleeper (#62049). Two interesting things here: The Viewliner sleepers were in separate positions on the train, and both of them were once in the pool dedicated for the former TWILIGHT SHORELINER.
At 3:42 PM we passed over a bridge. The bridge tender normally radios the engineer, like a passing freight would, to report how the rear markers look. He said they were fine, but that the door to the baggage car was open. When I heard that, I thought back to Train 92 six days ago. It was the same bridge tender that had originally noticed the baggage car door open, but that crew did nothing about it. On this train, the engineer made sure the conductor had heard the message, and the latter said he would take care of it.
Our Palatka stop at 3:48 PM was six minutes late, but we stopped and quickly started since no passengers were detraining or boarding there. Seven minutes later, another bridge tender told our crew that the train looked good, which must have indicated that the open door had been closed. It must have been done while moving, since there could not have been enough time in Palatka to have done anything while the train was stopped a matter of a few seconds.
With the $17 breakfast of last week still fresh on my mind, and with two dinners on the trains ahead of us, I decided that between this train and the CITY OF NEW ORLEANS, we would eat lounge car food for dinner one evening, and splurge for the diner the other night. Of course on our final long distance segment, the CAPITOL LIMITED, we would have complimentary meals since we were going first class. After Michael and I discussed this, we agreed that we would do the lounge car on this train, and the diner on the CITY the next night.
So at 4:20 PM we went and got an early dinner in the lounge car, figuring we would beat the crowds the attendant implied would be boarding in Jacksonville. We could always get something else later on if we were still hungry. We both had hot dogs -- one for Michael and two for me. Snacks we had smuggled aboard rounded out the meal. We brought the food and drinks we had purchased from Robert, the lounge car attendant, back to our seats to be consumed.
Already finished with dinner at 4:53, we passed the city of Jacksonville. I heard the crew getting permission to enter "Grand Junction".
Now came one highlight of our trip on the SUNSET LIMITED: the only "new trackage" we would be getting today. We've ridden the SUNSET twice before, once in each direction between Jacksonville and New Orleans. But in each case we missed the wyeing of the train, as it was done either before we got on there or after we got off there. The wyeing process is done at a location known as Grand Junction, where the train turns east onto the Moncrief subdivision, goes beyond a grade crossing of US 1 & 23, and then backs onto the northeastern connection track and right into the Jacksonville station. When the Superliner-equipped train comes to a stop it is in the station facing south, as if it had come from Washington and New York. We entered Grand Junction at 4:56, and by 5:07 PM we had completed our backup move and had officially arrived in Jacksonville eight minutes early.
Like I usually do on Silver Service trains when passing through, I got out in Jacksonville. I checked out the set-out P-42 engine by the freight dock -- this time it was #88. While standing on the platform, I made a phone call to my pet sitter to make sure everything was going well with Fluffy. Nothing was amiss with the cat or the house, after a week's time, so that worry was off my shoulders.
Inside, I used the rest room on terra firma. Then our train's conductor began collecting originating passengers' tickets from the desk inside the station. That was my cue to reboard the train. The line inside was so long it went to the opposite corner of the waiting room.
At 5:30 PM, the SUNSET LIMITED departed from Jacksonville exactly on time. The dire predictions of crowded conditions aboard the train by our still nameless attendant did not materialize, at least not here in Jacksonville. Upon our departure, our speakers were now working. We heard a conductor go through his spiel about where smoking was allowed, and for coach passengers to not change seats. When the conductor later came through our car, one passenger had a question about where he had been told to sit. The conductor told him to talk to John. So our attendant had a name finally, albeit just a first one.
Having boarded in Jacksonville and sitting directly in front of us was a college-aged girl and her mother, traveling to Riverside, CA by way of Los Angeles. They were having a conversation with an elderly woman who was alone in the seat across from us, who was also going to Los Angeles. The latter woman had been on the bus we had taken from Tampa, only she had boarded in Sarasota. She was lamenting that she was told that there is no bus back to Sarasota. She said an AMTRAK agent told her that the closest she could get would be St. Petersburg, which might work since she could have somebody pick her up there. This is entirely true, and the reason for this is that Train 2, the eastbound SUNSET LIMITED, has its own Thruway bus, while 1 shares its connecting bus with that of Train 98 since their Orlando departures are so close together and it makes no sense to run two half-empty buses on the St. Petersburg-Orlando segment of the trip. On a former different, much later schedule, Train 1 had its own Thruway bus too, and that one originated in St. Petersburg.
I give these people a lot of credit, taking the only possible transcontinental rail trip in coach, which means no access to a shower for three consecutive nights. Michael and I were also spending three consecutive nights on trains, but at least the sleeper I had booked on one of them would give us access to a shower.
On the same train we also kept running into a man who was traveling by himself, who was an apparent railfan too. I later found out his name was John Sanger. He had seen me writing down train numbers and the like, and he asked me about that. I told him where this report would eventually be, and that there are plenty of other very interesting trip reports posted here by others. He also mentioned that he would be changing trains for Chicago in New Orleans, just like we were.
We heard the dining car attendant say that anyone who was hungry should come to the dining car now. This was an indication to me that our train was not that full, since they felt they could have just one seating and did not expect an influx of passengers to descend on the dining car. Right after this, Robert the lounge attendant came on to say he was currently on his break, but he would announce when the lounge was reopening. Why he could not take his break like everyone else when the train was idle in Jacksonville is a good question. I was thankful that we had eaten an hour earlier, since if we waited I would have been quite peeved to hear the lounge attendant was taking his break during a prime dinner hour.
At 5:38 we rounded the curve onto the CSX east-west track that both the SUNSET LIMITED and the PALMETTO use between Jacksonville and Baldwin. Nine minutes later, there was a small thud. I heard the conductor say, "What in the world was that?" The engineer replied, "Some prankster put some ties on the track." We continued at speed, so there was apparently no cause for concern.
We crossed a diamond over another set of tracks at Baldwin. The PALMETTO turns left here to go towards Ocala and Tampa. We were entering what is called the Tallahassee Sub. A dispatcher asked the engineer his name, and he said "R. T. Griffin". I later heard that the "R" stood for Richard.
One of the few times we were delayed by a freight train happened on this stretch. At 6:24 we had a restricted signal, and slowed to 10 mph as we took a siding. Two minutes later there was a stop signal. The conductor announced at 6:29 that we were waiting for a freight train to pass. I then looked out the window and saw the conductor and his assistant outside, one of them smoking, both standing in the very gauge over which the freight train was expected to pass. Real brilliant move, guys. Does Operation Lifesaver re-educate conductors? After the nicotine fit was satisfied, both of them quickly reboarded our train to get out of the way of the approaching freight.
Meanwhile, as we were sitting still, Robert announced from the lounge car that he was back on duty, and that at 7 PM he would have the one and only movie showing of the evening, "Harry Potter". Michael had seen this, but he was eager to see it again. I decided I would remain at my seat and just check on Michael every so often.
We began moving west at 6:37, once the freight had passed. We had lost just eleven minutes here. Down the tracks a bit, I noticed that one grade crossing gate was just going down as our coach, the second-to-last on the train, was passing. Wasn't that a bit too late?
At 6:50 PM, Michael left me to go to the lounge car to get a seat for the movie. He needn't have worried, as there were plenty of empty seats on both levels of the lounge car whenever I went in to check on him.
Richard the engineer asked the conductor to bring him his dinner. He ordered fish, corn, and mashed potatoes. He then brought our train to a stop in Lake City, FL. There was not much work here, so we were rolling one minute later at 6:58 PM. We were now 25 minutes late. Four minutes later, we passed under I-75.
The town of Live Oak, FL went by us at 7:20 PM. About six minutes later, I heard a CSX defect detector for our train. While no defects were found, somehow our train activated the detector twice after it had passed.
Madison, FL was the next station stop. One crew member was heard saying, "There is someone here." We left there at 7:47 PM, 23 minutes off the advertised. At the same time, the dining car crew announced the last call for dinner.
We encountered another freight between Madison and Greenville, only this time he was in the pocket while we passed by. While we were going through Greenville, I noticed that our train's namesake event was taking place, the first of three sunsets its California-bound passengers would likely see.
At 8:38 PM I began to get an indication from my scanner that my battery was low once more. Apparently this wonderful Nickel-Cadmium does not last as long as regular AA batteries. It cannot be replaced, but has to instead be recharged. Being in a Superliner, there was only one available outlet, and it was by the pair of seats ahead of us, the ones occupied by the college girl and her mom. Naturally they were using their outlet to charge their cell phone, so I did not intrude. I went down into the rest room and utilized the outlet intended for shavers. Rest room "D" in Superliner coaches is essentially a two-room suite; you can sit on a bench in one section, or the toilet in the other section. I rode for about 15 minutes on the small bench in the bathroom continuing to listen to my scanner, and hopefully give it a little bit of a charge.
During this time, I actually missed the city of Tallahassee. Since the station is located on the western part of the capital city, by the time I realized we were approaching the station, and had come out of the windowless room, I had to look back to see the city's buildings, all lit up as night had fallen completely while I was in my self-imposed solitude.
Our arrival into Tallahassee was at 8:53 PM, eight minutes early. Given the fact we were 23 minutes down at Madison, there was obviously plenty of padding here at Tallahassee. While we were stopped waiting to depart on time, the dining car attendant came on the speaker and announced that the diner was closed. He also said we should turn our watches back one hour, as we would be entering Central Daylight Time when we left this station. I also changed the time on my cell phone, a much easier task than doing so on my watch. We departed on time at 9:01 PM EDT, which was 8:01 PM CDT. (Note: All further times on this train will be expressed in Central Time.)
At 8:25 PM CDT I went to check on Michael, who had been watching the movie for almost two and a half hours. "Harry Potter" was still playing. While in the lounge, I purchased a large milk for us to share, figuring it would help us to sleep. I gave Michael his cup and then took mine back to my coach seat.
Eight minutes later, Michael returned from the movie, and said he wanted to get ready to go to sleep. We each got ready, and we then retired for the night in our coach seats. Our sleep was broken from time to time, but I think we both got enough. The milk I drank and the sleeping pill I took certainly helped. Yes, one of the items I thought I had forgotten in the last-minute packing frenzy had turned up at my parents home, in Michael's suitcase. I had in fact brought them, but they were not where I thought I had put them.
Friday, April 25, 2003
Part 17: The SUNSET LIMITED, Train 1(24), Orlando, FL to New Orleans, LA (continued)
I awoke at a station stop around 3:16 AM, where I looked out and saw that we were in Atmore, AL. Therefore that meant I had slept through Chipley, Crestview, and Pensacola. I also observed that it was raining and there was lightning present with the storm. Still, nothing would stop this train, as we departed Atmore just one minute late.
After about another hour, I awoke once more as we were sitting idle in the Mobile, AL station. We had arrived there at 4:18 AM, seven minutes early, so the train had to wait until it could depart on time at 4:25 AM.
I must have slept well once more, because I also missed Pascagoula and Biloxi. When I next awoke there was a faint sunrise behind us, and we were in Gulfport, MS. We left there at 6:13 AM, just two minutes down. Still very impressive timekeeping!
From this point on, I remained awake. There had not yet been a call for breakfast, but I figured the dining and lounge cars were open and serving. I decided that since we were running virtually on time, we could eat breakfast off the train and have a much better selection.
At 6:32 AM, we were crossing one of many bodies of water on this part of the route. This was the Bay of St. Louis. Sitting just west of this bay is the city of Bay St. Louis. We arrived at that city's station at 6:37 AM, six minutes early. Although there was not much station work here, we had to wait for departure. When the SUNSET LIMITED left Bay St. Louis, my watch showed 6:42 AM, a minute early. It was overcast here, no doubt the western edge of the storm we went through overnight in Alabama.
That was the last stop before our destination, New Orleans. It would take more than two hours to cover the 57 miles between the two cities. Much of those 57 miles are spent traveling over bridges and causeways. Louisiana is known for its bayous and marshlands. The railroad was built literally over the water. We were restricted to speeds as low as 10 mph for about 40 minutes.
In this area I received a telephone call from Steve Weagant, who we would be meeting in Chicago the next day. We talked only briefly about my trip and our plans for Saturday, because there are no cell towers in the bayous.
We finally reached dry land at about 8:00 AM, and we consequently sped up. Like we did for so much of this trip, we were running next to either U.S. 90 or I-10. The street to our right for much of this segment was Chef Menteur Highway.
At 8:18 AM, we came upon the Port of New Orleans, and also saw the floodgates that protect the city when those waterways we crossed get too high in severe weather. The floodgates do, unfortunately, close off rail service. Highways are elevated above them, so they are not affected. Perhaps some investment could be made to elevate the railroads too, so that passenger and freight can continue to move. Commerce should not stop just because the city is threatened with flooding. Certainly trains provide a quick means of egress should people wish to leave town.
We got near the downtown area at about 8:30 AM, and passed some above-ground cemeteries that are part of New Orleans' culture because of its low elevation. We moved around the top of the station area's wye track at 8:42 AM, and began a slow backup move towards the station at 8:45. On our right as we moved in reverse, we could see various AMTRAK engines, switchers, and Superliner equipment. After a safety stop, we came to a final stop at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOUPT) at 8:56 AM. Our 769-mile trip ended with our arrival 24 minutes early!
Although they seemed to have trouble accomplishing this on the Silver Service trains, some thanks must be given to CSX Transportation, who did a fine dispatching job for the SUNSET on this particular trip.
As we left our seats and headed downstairs to detrain, we left passengers sitting in our coach who had almost 2,000 more miles of travel towards Los Angeles to cover in two days. In a way, I wish we could have remained with them; but our mission for now was to enjoy five hours in the Big Easy, ride the city's namesake train, and then spend a day in the Windy City before heading home.
The first thing I did was to approach the ticket counter with our luggage, so we would not have to roll it around the city. Since we had arrived and would be departing as coach passengers, I was charged three dollars for our two suitcases, which I was happy to pay to get rid of them for a while.Continued in next section