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Trip Report

New York to South Florida via Altoona

April 1-5, 2004


I had flown from Fort Lauderdale to New York on March 26 to handle some business matters. My return to Florida was via Altoona, PA, so as to attend the National Railroad Historical Society Board meeting there between April 2 and 4. I departed my home in Westchester County, NY about 8:50am on April 1 and drove to my daughter's in Brooklyn. While it would have been easier to take the Amtrak Turboliner from Croton-Harmon at 10:38 directly to Penn Station, this would enable her to use the car during the next month while I would be away from New York.

I reached my daughter's place about 10:40, left the car in the driveway, and headed for the nearby Fort Hamilton Parkway station of the IND subway. An F train was just pulling out as I descended the stairs but a nearly empty one came about 3 minutes later. When I reached Penn Station I noted the trains were running a little late with a 12noon Metroliner not loading until 11:58 and the 12:03 Acela to Boston loading at about the departure time. The Acela and #171 to Washington (WAS) attracted multitudes of riders to their gates.

Train 41, the "Three Rivers," was called about 12:10 and it started moving about 12:18 just after I got seated. The train was set up "backwards" with a new HHP-8 locomotive pulling an Amfleet II coach, 2 Horizon coaches, a Horizon lounge car and a Viewliner sleeper, in that order. Passengers for Altoona and Pittsburgh were seated in the Amfleet II car, which was quite comfortable. I was a little concerned about Horizon cars on such a long run but noted that the ones on this train had been converted to long distance service with better seats and leg rests. Of course there are no shades or drapes on the windows and the washroom facilities are somewhat inadequate for overnight travel.

By coincidence, two friends were traveling from Berlin, CT, on #171 and would join #41 at 30th St. Philadelphia, from where they had a deluxe bedroom en route to Pittsburgh. Shortly before Metropark we overtook that train and my cellphone rang; my friends were calling to tell me that my train had just overtaken theirs. They were further delayed behind us as we waited several minutes for the departure time at Trenton.

We found each other at Philadelphia (PHL). Moreover, I was please to note their Viewliner sleeper was the "Metropolitan View" which had been sitting at Hialeah for quite some time and now was back in service. The car seemed in good condition except that the electric outlet in their room didn't work with the result that their computer batteries were running down. The very helpful car attendant said it would be fixed at Harrisburg. He lived up to the promise-two electricians boarded there, checked and replaced the outlet. Their work took a little longer than the 10 minutes allotted for the stop so the train now was 6 minutes late out of Harrisburg. I had checked the consist during the Harrisburg stop and noted Engines 92 and 162, 2 baggage cars, the Viewliner sleeper, a Horizon café car, 2 Horizon coaches, one Amfleet II coach, 5 freight cars and about 6 RoadRailers in that order. Since I had been riding "up front" upon return to my seat I noticed the train was very well populated with most seats occupied.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful except for some nice scenery along the Juniata River. We passed quite a few Norfolk Southern (NS) freights headed east but did not encounter delays of any consequence. Altoona arrival was just 9 minutes late at 7:14. Horseshoe Curve Chapter members met the train with a large van to transport the NRHS people to the hotel.

The NRHS Board meeting ran from 8:30 until 11:45 on Sunday morning. The local people were monitoring Train 40 that was due out at 12:38. Amtrak's "Julie" reported it to be about 2 hours late-one hour of the lateness was attributable to the change to Daylight Savings Time during the night while the train was en route from Chicago. We were dropped at the station about 2pm to await the train. The station here was built in the late 1980's alongside a road called "PRR Expy." It's concrete modern with a single platform reached by stairs and elevator. From there a bridge crosses the expressway and leads to the station building that is somewhat attractive inside. The agent suggested we go out to the platform about 2:25 and soon the train was in sight. It had the same basic consist as on the westbound trip and was rather full. Those in groups were asked to board first so four of us got seats together. The car attendant spotted us and immediately said no scanners, cameras or railroad talk are allowed. He was good, as was his female counterpart on Thursday's westbound trip; I really think Amtrak is making improvements in its on-board service personnel. On this run the crews work in tandem with those on the Pennsylvanian and turn at Pittsburgh. The trip was uneventful and we gradually made up some time, reaching PHL at 7:37 (6:05). As indicated, one hour of this lateness was attributable to the time change.

At PHL I headed for the Acela Lounge to have a soda and check the status of my email. A friend from Coral Gables, the Miami Chapter's National Director, was making the same trip; he had room 10 in the Viewliner in which I had room 2. About 8:25 the attendant announced the train and sent us down to the track in an elevator. The platform was mobbed with people just detraining from a Corridor train on the opposite track but we soon reached Location A where our car would be spotted. The train arrived early at 8:35 and the car attendant admonished us to drop our stuff in the rooms and head for the diner, which we did. Dinner was excellent with a good waiter and friendly companion heading to Miami from Harrisburg. He heard the two of us talking trains and confessed an interest in the subject. When we were finished he told us the dinner had been a valuable learning experience! I reminded him to keep after his Senators and Congressman regarding Amtrak funding.

I turned in about 11:30 but woke up a few times during the night. Each time the train was moving at good speed so I assumed we were on time. I got up about 7:30, washed up and then observed us arriving Florence, SC an hour 41 minutes late at 8:00. Several crew members later explained that a freight train ahead of us had hit an auto at a grade crossing near Fayetteville, NC, and nothing could move since a fatality had resulted. Although it was impossible to recover all of that lateness, we hoped to recover some of it. Breakfast was excellent with the same two companions as at dinner-the gentleman from Harrisburg and the Miami Chapter's National Director en route home from the meeting.

Later in the morning I utilized the shower at the end of the "Wayside View"-the space is tight but the shower worked well and was refreshing. We pulled into Savannah just as I emerged from the shower. The train was ready after its 5 minute station time but was held another 15 minutes for a deadheading CSX Office Car Special that was pulling into Savannah on another platform track. That train had CSX engines 9982 and 9993 pulling 12 business cars of various types with the theater-observation car "Georgia" on the rear.

I headed to the diner for lunch at 12:45 and enjoyed a salad and chicken pot pie priced at $7.25. Indeed the menu prices appeared rather steep; last night's steak dinner was listed at $18.50. Before lunch I had walked through the train and noted it to be nearly at capacity. My last walk had been between Baltimore and Washington when the first two coaches were full, the third about 50% loaded and the rear car nearly empty, presumably being held for those boarding at WAS. Now the train was full with the rear car housing mostly passengers with small children. The other 3 cars housed a mixture of riders with some children.

April 5 turned out to be a beautiful day with a large group "inspecting" us at the viewing/photography area at Folkston, GA. About a half-hour later we arrived Jacksonville an hour and 33 minutes late. The 20 minutes' station time was used as the engine was fueled and baggage/express unloaded, but we were only about 1-1/2 hours down upon departure. South of Palatka we passed northbound #98 running 1 1/2 hours late from Miami. Further on we entered the siding at DeLand where we waited 15 minutes for the passing of the northbound Auto-Train, #52, which had 2 Genesis units and 42 cars. At this point we were running about on the time of #2, the southbound "Sunset Limited" and I was wondering how late it was today.

A word about the crews. The train and on-board service crews on both the "Three Rivers" and the "Silver Meteor" were close to excellent. I got the impression that some of them, including the dining car people, were relatively recent hires. They were most cordial and seemed to be doing their best to give the passengers a pleasant trip. Numerous riders commented on this.

After Sanford the conductor gave the engineer a briefing on some detrainings down the line. There would be 156 off at Orlando, 27 at Winter Park and 25 at Kissimmee but none at Winter Haven or Sebring. The Orlando stop consumed 13 minutes because of the large number of passengers and baggage to be unloaded. Shortly thereafter, we were called to the dining car for our second dinner of the trip. Last night I had a delicious steak; tonight it would be a seafood salad, which was quite tasty. One of the waiters had left us at Jacksonville so the lead attendant and one waiter now were running the car. While in the diner, the train traversed the McDonald Connection from former ACL (Atlantic Coast Line) to former SAL (Seaboard Air Line) at Auburndale in about 2 minutes. After Winter Haven we made good time on the Speedway with brief stops at Sebring and Okeechobee and reached West Palm Beach almost 2 hours late at 9:38 (7:46). Soon I was saying goodbye to some of my traveling companions and preparing to detrain at Hollywood where we arrived at 10:44, exactly an hour, 58 minutes late. My wife was on the platform and we were home about 15 minutes later.

Consist of Train 97:

935 Engine NYP-WAS 150 Engine WAS-MIA 1204 - Baggage 2506 "Pine Peak"-Crew dorm/ lounge 62048 "Wayside View" - Sleeper [my car] 62028 "Palisade View"- Sleeper 8531 -Diner 28020 -Amfleet II Lounge 25093 -Amfleet II Coach 25109 -Amfleet II Coach 25041 -Amfleet II Coach 25057 -Amfleet II Coach
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