Florida Trip 2004
April 2-11, 2004
Here are a few notes regarding our annual Florida trip, once again taken by my son Michael and me, in early April.
As usual we drove to Cherry Hill, NJ and used NJ TRANSIT's Atlantic City Line into and out of Philadelphia.
In Philly I used two of my AMTRAK Guest Rewards Select member Club Acela passes so that we could wait for the SILVER METEOR, Train 97(2), away from the usual panhandlers and pigeons. Michael figured out how to change channels on the TV so that business people expecting to get news from CNN instead had to watch a Sponge Bob Square Pants marathon on Nickelodeon.
We were the first coach passengers to reach the platform, but the last to board thanks to the usual confusion as to where we had to stand. Then came the dreaded assigning of seats. The train was already late, having been 15 minutes late in Newark, NJ when I had earlier checked its progress. We left PHL 22 minutes late.
The consist of 97(2):
* (We were here)904 AEM-7 engine NYP-WAS ** 1230 Baggage 2510 Dorm 62046 Viewliner sleeper 62021 Viewliner sleeper 8550 Diner 28016 Lounge 25100 Amfleet II coach * 25070 Amfleet II coach 25068 Amfleet II coach 25056 Amfleet II coach
** In Washington, AEM-7 904 was removed, replaced with 183 P-42 locomotive WAS-MIA
Lost more time in Baltimore because the Redcap was late in meeting the train.
Then in Washington, the crew found that the train was severely over-booked. Without any more coach seats, about 20 passengers had to spend the night in the lounge car. I heard one wiseguy crew member say, "Charge 'em double." The conductor at one point asked if there were any extra coaches available, but was told "no extra equipment in the terminal". One family refused and detrained, and then their checked baggage had to be removed as well from the baggage car. Seats were not expected to be available until the train reached Florence, SC the next morning.
Still in Washington, after receiving the OK to go, it was then discovered that there was some problem with the engine that had just been added. We had to wait while the crew tried to contact a mechanical person who had to walk through the inside of the train, checking the electric boxes in each car. No problems were found, so we were once again given the OK to go, with the engine showing a false indication. We were now 40 minutes late.
We both slept well, because when we woke up the next morning at 6 AM we were in Fayetteville, NC. We had lost an entire hour more since Washington.
Made up some time through South Carolina, departing Florence at 7:47 AM, 1 hour 23 minutes late. Train 90(2) was on a freight siding awaiting our station work at FLO, and would probably have to back into the station after we left.
Breakfast in the dining car was served reasonably quickly despite the high passenger load, and the food was satisfactory.
Departed Charleston, SC, always a busy stop, at 9:16 AM, 1 hour 21 minutes down.
In Savannah, GA was shared the platform with the American Orient Express. Departed 11:01 AM, one hour 17 minutes late. We lost more time through Georgia, and were 1 hour 30 minutes late upon departure from Jessup.
Arrived into Jacksonville's station at 1:23 PM, just one hour one minute off. We could have made up some time had they used only the allotted 20 minutes to service the train. But we sat there for 43 minutes, departing at 2:06 PM (1 hour 24 minutes late).
I knew it would get worse since we would be meeting three more AMTRAK trains in Florida. We had a good meet with 98(3) at 3:24 about 13 minutes past Palatka. Then right before Deland we stopped on a siding and waited there for 26 minutes for the northbound AUTO TRAIN to pass us on the mainline. Thus we left Deland at 4:24 PM (1 hour 48 minutes down) and Sanford at 4:43 PM, about just as late. Finally we met 92(3) about halfway between Winter Park and Orlando, but luckily this was on double track.
Our Orlando stop was just 8 minutes long. Combined with the padding into Orlando, we made up some time. Our departure from there was at 5:30 PM, 1 hour 27 minutes late. We had a few stretches where the train had to go 60 mph instead of 79 mph, so we lost a few more minutes.
Arrival into Winter Haven was at 6:42 PM, one hour 33 minutes late.
Our return was on the SILVER STAR, Train 92(10). This train was running late coming up from Miami, and it reached us at 2:55 PM, already 28 minutes down.
The consist of Train 92(10):
* (We were here)152 P-42 engine MIA-WAS ** 1709 Baggage 2515 Dorm 62001 Viewliner sleeper 62027 Viewliner sleeper 8527 Diner 28013 Lounge 25074 Amfleet II coach * 25051 Amfleet II coach 25006 Amfleet II coach 25093 Amfleet II coach
** In JAX, P-42 locomotive 83 was added to the point and ran JAX-WAS. 11 boxcars also ran JAX-WAS. In WAS, both P-42's and all boxcars were removed, and HHP-8 locomotive 657 was added to run WAS-NYP.
Despite heavy boarding in Kissimmee and Orlando, we were still 27 minutes late when we departed from Orlando. Most coach seats were taken, but we were not over-booked like on our southbound trip.
Went to dinner at 5 PM seating. Service was satisfactory and quick. Our food was served at 5:22, and we left the diner at 5:48 PM.
Meanwhile at 5:05 just past the Sanford station, we passed the empty AUTO TRAIN terminal on our right, and Train 97(9) on our left. Good meet despite the fact we were about 1/2 hour late.
At Deland stop, one diner attendant yelled "hold onto your drinks!" because we were coming to an abrupt stop.
In Palatka we made an unnecessary double stop, since the crew found after the first stop that there were no sleeper passengers boarding there.
At 6:48 PM we stopped in a siding for eight minutes for the SUNSET LIMITED, Train 2(7) to pass. It was running over three hours late.
In Jacksonville we passed the station on the mainline track, and then backed in. Hard hit as the train reversed into the boxcars it was picking up. Arrival in JAX was 7:39 PM, 25 minutes late. Departure at 8:10 PM also 25 minutes down.
Through Georgia we lost our HEP a few times, but the train proceeded.
Made Savannah stop 10:28 PM, departed 10:31 PM, 32 minutes late. Then we went onto the "S" line, and found it to be quite rough, with the cars swaying from side to side.
Because of the rough ride, we both did not sleep as well as we did on our southbound trip. I was aware of our stops in Hamlet and Southern Pines, both still about 1/2 hour late.
Raleigh must be padded, because we arrived there at 5:25 AM, two minutes early! Station work took 10 minutes, so we departed eight minutes down.
Norfolk Southern's "H" line was in much better shape than I recall before, and we moved smoothly and quickly over it. At 6:04 AM we moved through the high-speed connection back onto CSX at Selma.
After a three-minute stop in Rocky Mount, we departed 6:54 AM, 16 minutes late.
Went to diner for breakfast at 7:46 AM. Food was served at 7:58, and we left the diner at 8:26, which meant another 40-minute meal. Food was good and service was efficient.
Our stop in Petersburg, VA was four minutes long because there was a lot of work at the baggage car. Departure from that station was 8:22 AM, 22 minutes off.
A long 10 mph approach into Richmond's Staples Mill Road station ate up the padding in the timetable. After an 8-minute stop, we departed there at 9:09 AM, 20 minutes late.
Passed the Lorton AUTO TRAIN terminal at 10:50 AM. Train appeared to have arrived on time, and most passengers had already collected their vehicles and departed.
We had lost some time coming up through Virginia. AFter a double stop in Alexandria, we were 37 minutes late. At 11:09 AM, two minutes beyond ALX, we passed Train 79(11), the southbound CAROLINIAN. Arrived Washington, DC 22 minutes down.
Station work in Washington was quick. Departed 11:45 AM. We made up time as we headed north on the Northeast Corridor. The train was 28 minutes late in Baltimore, and 24 minutes late in Wilmington.
Arrival into Philadelphia was at 1:36 PM, 16 minutes late.
During our two trips, overall I was pleased with the three meals we ate in the dining car. The dining car crews were friendly and efficient.
Our coach attendants were pleasant and not hard to find when needed. They did a good job despite the holiday rush.
The rest rooms on both trains were not in such great shape. At times the toilets would not flush, and at other times the floors were wet.
The ride quality on both trains was okay, except for our northbound trip through the Carolinas.