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Trip Report

Amtrak Miami-San Antonio for Grandson's College Graduation

May 3-10, 2004



Mid Jan, 2004 Received date for graduation and tried Amtrak web site which indicated we could get a Deluxe Bedroom both ways. I called and Julie, the automated computer, would not accept a senior rate for my wife. Finally gave up and waited for a live agent. About three minutes and had no problem with route Miami Fl, Orlando, San Antonio out and San Antonio, Winter Park FL, Miami return. Tickets to be mailed and in a week or so they arrived.

But no return Winter Park-Miami. Called again and re-made reservations. Tickets arrived and I'm set. Or so I thought. Make reservations with Best Western for return night. Both hotels near the station are full.

By lurking on the On Track On Line site, I see that Amtrak was changing the Silver Service to one trip a day with new times. Next day I am called by Amtrak. Talk to the wife and return the call. New schedule will be a day earlier Miami-Winter Park and remain overnight. Sunset the next day. Return will be San Antonio-Winter Park and remain overnight. Super Silver to Miami. Drive to Miami and get new tickets and system timetable. I note that on page 87 they have copied Trains mag. with night and day on the routes. A nice touch, but with CSX/UP (CSX and Union Pacific railroad companies) traffic only wishful thinking.

Call Best Western and get a room for first night.

Three days before the start my son received a call to be in Orlando the day after we were to start. Since he would have to drive up the same day we were to leave, my wife will ride with him and I will take the train. Call John, the owner of the PV Coco Grove (PV = Private Varnish, i.e., a privately owned railcar), and he will take me to the station. Earlier John and our son had gone to Orange Park for the Amtrak inspection of the PV. They brought back the Radio Shack scanner. I programmed in the OTOL listed frequencies for the Sunset and Silver. I had reception all the way. My thanks to the person that did the research.

Miami to Winter Park

May 3, 2004

John arrives early, as usual. Had rain on the way but little traffic. Arrive at 0640. At 0710 I see a sleeper drifting by on track 3 followed by coaches. Track 3? We always left on track 1 before. Walk outside and track 3 is full of silver cars. Don't even see the loco's in the distance.

0815 and on board the lead sleeper, room 1. Amtrak checked tickets and picture ID at the gate. Get out the scanner and settle in. Most of my luggage will be in son's pickup.

0829 they make a brake check and start to move at 0833. A quick stop for a switch then on our way at 0837. Phyllis comes by and collects tickets. Says breakfast will be served at 0900. Didn't expect that. McKutchen is the engineer in loco 40, train 92. Pull across a street crossing in Hollywood, then back to the station. This allows the crossing gate behind the train to raise and clear traffic. 0902.

Walked to the lead diner at 0915 and had a western omelet. At the table is a rider going to Los Angeles. Then the Starlight to Portland. Empire Builder to Chicago, Capitol Limited to Washington and Silver return to Miami. Deluxe Sleeper all the way. His son will ride Los Angeles-Chicago with him.

Finish breakfast and the train stops at 1025 to wait for a rock train.

1046 out of West Palm Beach and defect detector gives 76 axles. For what it is worth, length of train, 1471. A one minute stop at Okeechobee at 1148. Due out at 1124.

1238 depart Sebring while having Bunt Cake in the diner. Meet the southbound at Avon Park. We make two stops at Winter Haven and again at Kissimmee. Pass the James E. Straight Show siding and stop at 1435. A person dead on the track just south of the Orlando station. Hit by a freight. Arrive Orlando at 1451. A large crowd on the platform. Due out at 1418 and actually depart at 1533.

Arrive Winter Park at 1550 and the Super Silver departs at 1555. Consists of 2 loco's, 2 bag., Dorm sleeper, 4 sleepers, 2 dinners, Cafe, 6 coach and Sleeper 62043. Yep, 76 axles.

The Best Western is due west about 6 or 7 blocks. Arrive at 1650 to wait for my wife and son. When they arrive, we have dinner at the Chinese Restaurant, next door. Not bad food. And to bed.

There is a city bus stop across the street and about 250 feet to the west of the station. Another across the same street from the Best Western. Taxi fare was $ 3.75 for two of us.

Winter Park to San Antonio

4 May, 2004

Have a leisurely breakfast at the motel and then check out. Ride the son's pickup to the Amtrak station. I sit outside and watch the squirrels in the park. Wife and son go shopping across the park. When they return, our son departs for business and home. Some type of outdoor meeting is at the north end of the park. It breaks up about 1300. They look like high school students as they drift across the tracks and walk west. See about 7 passengers at the station that had been on the Super Silver yesterday.

Amtrak pulls in: Loco 181, Bag, Trans-dorm, 2 sleepers, Diner, Lounge, 2 coaches. We settle in to room D, car 191 and depart at 1405. Due out at 1403. A good start for a daylight arrival at San Antonio. Guy is the car attendant. Says he has 13 trips to go before retirement.

Defect detector says 36 axles and length of 734 feet. While the axle count remains the same most times, the length varies at each detector.

Seven minutes late for departure at both Deland and Palatka. Stop with a freight alongside. Neither going anywhere. There has been a lot of track repair from West Palm Beach to Jacksonville. Just south of Okeechobee, they had even pulled a string of concrete ties.

1642 and we are moving. Radio chatter says signals are going green to red to green etc. We go to the diner and while there, the train backs to the Jacksonville station from the Y. Steak and baked potato with corn and beans. Chocolate Bunt Cake a la mode finished the meal.

Depart Lake City only 20 minutes late. There are some houses south of the track painted BRIGHT green or BRIGHT yellow or BRIGHT blue. All have the same trim. A few more and street lights would not be required after dark.

2152 and much chatter on the radio. Seems we are behind a slow freight. Dispatcher says there is no place to put it. At 2205 a slow freight is the least of our problem. In fact our slow speed is an asset as the train goes into emergency. Quick stop and the crew walks the train. Final crew guess is that someone in the first coach did the dirty deed. Speed is up and we soon catch up to the freight.

2358 and have a one minute passenger stop. I'm in the top bunk and drift in and out so don't know where we are. At 0022 the scanner is dead. Didn't expect them to last that long. Replaced them with a new set of NIMH. Will put the NiCad on charge tomorrow.

0043 received clearance for next 9 blocks as soon as a freight goes by. A ten minute wait and we are clear to go.

0310 and the Jacksonville dispatcher bids the crew so long.

Up and shower as train is not moving. Outside the water is lapping at the ballast. 0605 and still waiting . 0614 and we move slowly forward and cross the bridge. Pass the Alabama State Docks and soon go through the building to stop and discharge passengers at Mobile. An 18 minute stop. The last time I was here, the Chicago passengers were loaded on a bus to make connections up the line. Again? Probably not for we're not that late. Yet!

Depart Pascagoula at 0725 then Biloxi at 0910. Due out at 0455 so a daylight arrival at San Antonio is looking better all the time.

0957 we stop on the main beside a train of "Military" trucks and trailers. The truck outside our window has a 3 passenger cab, 3rd seat is in the center and behind other two, cloth seats all around, no army corp markings but usual markings for each item on the truck. Solid sand color on all units. 4 X 4 extra large tires. About the size of a 24 inch rear tractor tire. Little wear on the ground and the spare, mounted behind the cab, shows no wear at all. Two CSX and two UP locos at the head end.

Gentilly Yard and we are stopped at the light. Dispatcher gives permission to the next light. Repeat, repeat and repeat. Finally at 1200 we are backing in on track 5. Will be a short wait in New Orleans. At least that is what Guy says. City of New Orleans waiting for departure time.

1246 and the blue flags come down. We don't move. Seems there is a problem with the water heater in the kitchen. Amtrak train number 58, City of New Orleans departs.

Well, at 1421 we are across the Huey .P Long bridge and only moving slowly towards Los Angeles. Would have been a good time to take pictures from the bridge. Very slow crossing.

Dinner as we leave Lafayette. May be slow but the food is good. So is the service. Make it all the way to West Lafayette Yard for a 28 minute stop. 1848 and we highball. Then at 2020 we stop for a problem in the baggage car. A seven minute wait then on toward Houston. Depart Houston at 0145 after a forty minute wait. Wee were due out at 2118 yesterday.

Up at 0515 to get ready for a new day. Have a refuel stop and pull into San Antonio at 0707 in daylight. Grand-daughter meet us. Load the luggage and we go to our daughter's home. Then all go to IHOP for breakfast, catch up on family and plan for tomorrow and the big day, Saturday. Back to daughter's home to transcribe notes from Radio Shack digital voice recorder, DR-83, so it will be ready for the return trip. Beats paper and pencil, especially in the dark.

A great trip and right on time by my calculations. Looking forward for the return trip.

San Antonio To Winter Park and on to Miami

8 May 2004

We keep tabs on train number 2 (east bound Sunset Limited) and it looks like it will be a late arrival to San Antonio. Set the alarm for minimum time to get up and go to the station. Sunday morning traffic is entered into the equation. Morning check shows plenty of time for showers, etc., as expected.

Driven to the station and Texas Eagle is in front of the station. They start loading coach passengers when they hear that Sunset is close. Pull forward without loading sleeper passengers. Sunset pulls in and unloads. Switch cars and the Texas Eagle sleeper is loaded. Due out at 0800 but won't make it today. Sunset is ready for boarding. No ID check here. We have the same car we came west on but a different room. Will be on the north side going east. Breakfast is being served. By hand signals at the windows we tell daughter and son-in-law we are going to the diner. Take a table on the north side and eventually wave good by.

Wife has scrambled eggs with bacon. I have the same except turkey sausage links. My first time for the links. Much better than expected. Flavor was pretty much the same as pork with less fat. Diner is not crowded so we enjoy another leisurely meal on the rails. As usual, I do not take the scanner with me. Get back to the room about 1000. While we have been moving since refueling, we have not made up any time. We have 2 locos at the head end but acceleration would indicate that one is dead. Other than the extra loco, we have the same mix as going west. For this report there will only be 3 track conditions: green, yellow and red. Most of our time on UP turns out to be yellow or red.

1125 Pass through a work area at 20 mph. Also running on a yellow. Engineer does a good job, matching our speed to the train ahead. At 1130 we are passing through Harwood. People leaving the church wave as we go by. There is a large cemetery but with few graves. Must be anticipating the future. US 90 is alongside as it will be for most of the day and tomorrow. A few minutes later and come to Waelder, still under yellow.

As we leave Waelder, the road alongside is Texas Farm to Market 1680. A narrow 2 lane blacktop. It is typical of back roads in Texas. We are being paced by a tan sedan. He pulls ahead and stops. When we catch up he repeats. We pass under I-10. Not long before F to M 1680 crosses the track. Now the road alongside gets even narrower and finally turns to dirt. The car is still pacing us as before. We come to a stop and after 4 minutes we change from red to yellow and slowly accelerate. Road and pace car disappear. Defect detector gives 40 axles.

A UP train of loaded SATX (a reporting mark of a railroad freight company) hoppers on the siding. Finally begin to speed up. Soon slow down and stop. Coal train still alongside. Dispatcher tells some complaining engineer, asking for a car, to wait his turn just like every body else out here. Tells him he know how it is.

1209 and get a yellow. Our engineer tells conductor that from the looks of things out here, they should make reservations for a very late arrival. The siding is west of Flatonia and the tan sedan is back. Cross the diamond and stop.

1222 Our engineer tries 6 times to get track crew foreman Arogon. No reply so he had to stop. Seventh try and gets clearance to pass work crew at max authorize speed and pass red light at mile post ???. Moving again. Meet two west bound freights at a siding and speed picks up.

1339 At Eagle Lake and a train crew is "on the law" with no relief or transportation. They tell the dispatcher that the paper work will be ready when the relief gets there. Continue 'till 1407 when we stop for a few minutes then proceed on a yellow. 1414 and meet UP 3528. He (the engineer or conductor) is on the ground giving us a run by inspection. A detector to the east gives an axle count of 256. Guess he is the one holding us back.

Had a chicken sandwich, tea and a slice of chocolate cake for lunch. It had even more chocolate than the bunt cakes on the trip west. Really good. Told some of the people at the next table that I didn't think we would make it to Orlando. Probably take a bus. That didn't go over too well.

1429 and still running under a yellow. At a road crossing, a string of hoppers has been split. No one around the loco. Probably waiting for a crew. Most of the sidings have a train heading either east or west. Mile post 13 and a string of containers heading west with crew waiting for us to pass.

1459 and conductor tells the engineer he has the rear car on a crossing. Pull ahead about a car and a half. A container train passing to the west with CSX power. It has 2 containers of Florida Tropicana Orange Juice for California.

1509 and stop. Dispatcher gives permission to move through the red signal. This will put us at the station in Houston. A PV on a short siding to the north. New York Central No. 3. A Chandler graduation party by the sign on the rear. Congratulations. At least 4 PV's on the other side. One is the dome car, Warren Henry and another is the Evelyn Henry. Amtrak 800138 and 800139.

1606 Get have authority to depart. Due out at 1055 so I guess we are just a little bit late. But we don't move. Power goes off. We are in the shade of an overpass which helps. 1649 and power is back. 1700 and dispatcher wants to know when No. 2 will be ready. Reply is as soon as they finishes a "three ten." Guess that is paper work of some type. They estimate about ten minutes.

1710 and we are moving again. We now have 4 - count them 1-2-3-4 - Amtrak locomotives. Probably why we lost power to get them in the consist. Come to a stop by the Post Office. Announcement that we will be moving soon. Two seatings for dinner. Had another slice of cake.

We assure a "senior" lady going to Winter Park that we will make sure she gets a cab if we arrive in the middle of the night.

1822 and a BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad company) train goes by with some of the "Military" truck/trailer equipment we saw on the way west. It even had a blue and gray caboose. Defect detector has a defect. Only gave a count of 46 axles. Had 48 just after Houston.

Running under a yellow . As we cross a bridge, Glenna says the trash in the river is probably going faster than train. Explain that the trash is not going the same direction and is not under UP control.

1910 and we have a green. With four locos we should accelerate quickly. We don't.

1949 The NIMH batteries in the scanner give up. Put in a set of Energizers which should last the trip. If not the NiCad batteries are charged.

We are entering Beaumont. The sun is setting in the west. A bright red ball just above the horizon. Would be even better if we were moving west.

2003 Depart Beaumont and first detector gives us 48 axles as well as train direction and temp. We are at Lake Charles by 2119.

9 May 2004

0358 and we are in NOL ready to dash toward the rising sun. Down to one loco. Actual departure is at 0407. 0646 at Pascagoula.

Are having breakfast in the room as we unload/load passengers at Mobile. 0907 and have been stopped for some time. 0916 and start to move. Westbound Amtrak is also running late.

Arrive at Atmore at 1009. A newspaper is delivered. It has much better comics than the Miami rag. Still over six hours late. That means arrival at Winter Park will be sometime after 0300 even under the best of conditions. Pass through the Y and CSX storage yard at Flomation. Times on the radio are now eastern time as Jacksonville dispatcher is in control. Can be confusing for me to keep the times correct. Getting old.

1210 departure from Pensacola. Still have US 90 alongside as we go under I-10. Cross Escambia Bay at Lora Point while US 90 goes around. Meet the highway again at Milton. There are three old passenger cars setting at the old station.

1325 and stop on the main. From radio chatter it seems that the train ahead has had to "double the hill". With empty sidings in short supply, this will only add to congestion. 1432 and first chatter for about an hour. We are still waiting. 1502 and No 2 engineer makes another report that he is still stopped on the main. Just in case anyone forgot.

1547 and we have started to move on clearance for one block. Soon stop as end of the block. A freight behind is "waiting for that passenger train up ahead." Official delay as agreed by all was 152 minutes. That is not up to UP standards but pretty good for CSX.

Train ahead was told to remain in the siding and "put it to bed." Probably had engine troubles of some type.

Jacksonville dispatcher requests P002 ("passenger train #2, i.e., my train) to call him on the cell phone as radio is not working well. Cross the Yellow River and arrive at Crestview at 1608. Depart at 1614. Conductor just came on the intercom and said the wait was 152 minutes. The first time the public address system was used to report the delays on either the east or west run while we were aboard. Reason for the delay was not given.

Dispatcher calls P002, engine 49, and gives another block. We are to take the siding at De Funiak Springs. Train 609 will be waiting there for us to get out of his way. Train 602 chimes in and informs the dispatcher they have 3 hours left. Dispatcher says he has a relief crew ordered for them at Chipley.

1651 and we come to a stop. Engineer asks how many laundry cords they have back there. ???? What is he going to do with the cord? Just a six minute stop about two miles west of De Funiak Springs.

1705 and we pull into the siding with our car at the old station. An L&N caboose by the station. (L&N was the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, now part of CSX.)L&N

Engineer asking for a welder with a cutting torch to meet the train up the road. Something on the head end is falling down. The laundry cord was used to tie it up but it has broken too. Says it will only take five minutes to cut it off.

In the good ol' days, everyone with machinery had a stash of baling wire to take care of large and small problems. Back in 1953 I received IMMEDIATE TRANSFER orders to Guam. Had an accident in a snow storm. The other car was out of control and on the wrong side of the road. Baling wire saved the day. Laundry cord is just not in the same league. But I digress.

1714 and moving ahead slowly with the brakes moaning in protest. Dispatcher says he will send a welder from Tallahassee to fix the problem. Someone in the crew is taking more cords to the head end.

The train that was to meet us here hasn't. Our crew is good to 0100 and they think it will take all of it. My guess is it will take another crew if we go to Orlando. They might not even make it to Jacksonville.

1722 and the freight passes on the main. So much for waiting for us. Takes him 5 minutes to clear so we can pull out.

Had a T-bone steak for dinner as we arrive at Chipley. Very good.

2020 and we get 5 blocks with various additional speed restrictions. From 10 to 30 mph.

2026 and arrive at Chattahoochee yard to meet the welder. Yardmaster knows about it but the welder has not arrived. Can hear one half of the radio conversation with the welder. He is close and has left the I-10. They tell him we are on the main in front of the depot. Tell the welder it is a strap on the main reservoir . We move to the north end of the yard and stop to wait for the welder. Move ahead to stop at a road crossing where the welder is waiting. Think he came up on routes 270A and 269 from the interstate. Repairs took less than ten minutes and we are on our way at 2052. Arrive at Tallahassee at 2152 for a two minute stop.

10 May 2004

0058 and we are stopped somewhere west of Jacksonville for a crew change.

Arrive Jacksonville at 0130. No train waiting for passengers going north. Either gone or not here yet. Probably late. We should have been here at 1640, yesterday.

Word is passed that the train will terminate at Sanford Auto Train Terminal. One bus to Orlando and one to Winter Park and the airport. The airport stop is for passengers renting a car. Estimated time to Sanford is two hours after we depart Jacksonville. Depart at 0158 to Y and head south. Traffic on US 1 is very light as we cross and re-cross at grade.

Stop close to Grand Junction to wait for a freight to clear. He has a bad EOT device (End of Train device; flashing red light and radio signal) and so they set. So do we. Glenna says if we loose much more time we should be able to get off the bus and climb on the Super Silver at Winter Park.

0237 and we hi-ball. Orange Park Station and the Coco Grove are left behind at 0304. Blast by Palatka Station at 0342. Depart Deland at 0433 and it should not be long now.

0505 and we are on the Coach bus to Winter Park and the airport. Five passengers for Winter Park and probably 25 for the airport.

The worried lady passenger will ride with us in a Yellow Cab to the Best Western and then continued to her home. The cab wasn't yellow, but is orange. The yellow cabs belong to a different company. Or so our driver explained. Yellow Cab is the company that the station calls and the cab company tries to have a cab at the station when a train is due. In looking at the Amtrak system timetable, I find that they also give a number for the local bus company. A bus stop is in sight of the station.

At 0610 we arrive at the Best Western for a bit of rest and showers.

Check in is slow as there is no reservation. How could that be? Had reservations when we were here last week. Had to take a smoking room. Turns out that our son had canceled for us when he learned the train would be very late. Just sitting in the Best Western lobby or having breakfast would have been better than waiting outside the locked station. The station doesn't open until 0800.

Winter Park to Miami

Take a cab to the station to wait for the train. It is running about an hour late.

1000 we are in room 1 and depart for Miami. Car porter is Ross. A long stop at Orlando and depart at 1048. Dinner at Sebring. Running short of food selections. Only have cheese cake and/or ice cream for dessert.

1301 and we enter the long straight to West Palm Beach. Slow for the bridge at Indiantown at 1325 then back to speed. A new station for Tri Rail is being built at West Palm. Usually make two stops at the stations as the train is longer than the platforms.

1606 as we enter the yard with the station just ahead. Has been a great trip. Stop at 1612. While I haven't made a long trip in the Viewliner deluxe sleeper, from what I noticed, it looks like more useable room than on the Superliner cars. Room height is greater and the small windows would be great at night. One of these could be converted to a great private car.

Dreaming, I would keep the bedrooms H, B, A and 11 as is. Attendant and 12 would become storage and would save the commode/sink in the rear room, just in case. Rooms 1, 2, 3 and 4 would become the lounge. Rooms 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 would be the galley, dining and laundry area.

Our son meets us at the station and we start on the worst part of the trip. Train station to our home in the Redland during Miami traffic rush hour.

Now what can I use for an excuse for another train trip? Anywhere!


July. Latest word from rail magazines is that UP has moved men and locos to the area to help take care of the backups on this route.

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