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Trip Report

Toronto Rail Fest and Transcontinental Round Trip

July 12-26, 2004


Photographs illustrating this trip can be viewed here.

Part 1 - Three Rivers Train 40 Chicago to Trenton

July 12

The Day is finally here! After dinner with my dad in Greek Town, I am now sitting in the temporary Amtrak lounge in Chicago Union Station. The room does have a temporary feeling to it, but it is comfortable. Like in the regular Metropolitan lounge, I was not allowed to take my bag into the seating area. However, this presented no real problem. The 90 minute wait passed quickly while I talked with another sleeping car passenger on #40.

The boarding announcement is made, and there is a somewhat disorganized boarding process. I had anticipated the call, and gotten my bag early. As I waited around for the group to move, I became impatient and just walked down to the south concourse on my own. Amtrak personal pointed the way, and I walked down the platform to the train. As usual on 40, a few Amfleet and Horizon cars with a Horizon café with one Viewliner sleeper (Sylvan View).

I was in room six on the right side of the train. The AC was going full blast, a relief in the hot, humid July night. The attendant, a lady, was efficient and professional. Before we had even left the station she had walked through the car and introduced herself to all passengers. In addition, she took breakfast orders and wake up calls. Each passenger was asked what time they would like Breakfast. I selected 6:30 A.M. like I always do on the train.

Departed on time, and I was asleep shortly after Hammond Whiting. The anticipation of spending the next 14 days riding trains inspired an extreme calm in me. This was beginning of my participation in the Toronto Rail Fest which was organized by Kevin Korell. The day after tomorrow, Wednesday, July 14 I would meet with some of the Rail Fest group members in New York's Penn Station, and then continues on to Buffalo and Toronto. After participating in the Rail Fest, I would take a circle trip from Toronto to Montreal to Ottawa and back to Toronto. Then I would take the Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver. From Vancouver, I would take Amtrak to Seattle, and return to Chicago on the Empire Builder.

July 13

I awoke the next morning between Akron and Youngstown. We were pretty much on schedule. As I poked my head out the door, the attendant reminded me that my breakfast would soon be ready. When I entered the "diner" (really a Horizon dinette car) the attendant acknowledged my presence and provided coffee and OJ immediately. Soon after my French toast arrived. Though not cooked to order, it was warm and adequate. The crisp service added to the dining experience and made it enjoyable.

After Breakfast, I returned to my room to read and listen to music. I had just purchased a new jukebox MP3 player and wanted to try it out. A jukebox MP3 player combined with Bose's comfort noise canceling headphones provides the ultimate complement to train travel. All of my favorite music is easily accessible, and the headphones provide near stereo quality sound, with good bass when that is needed. While enjoying some Peter Brown, I noticed that the attendant had made the room up while I was having breakfast. Old school funk combined with old school train service!

Arrived Pittsburgh on time. The new crew boarded and immediately addressed the freezing temperatures in the sleeping car. I overheard that one half of the car was consistently too warm, while the other half was usually to cold. The end doors were kept open, which alleviated the freezing. I noted that the warmer part near the deluxe rooms did not seem to be getting as much relief. The cold didn't bother me, but I emphasized with the passengers in the warm half.

Departed Pittsburgh on time, and I settled back to enjoy the old Pennsy mainline across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. I enjoy the mountain scenery and the railroading sights such as the Horseshoe Curve and the right of way of the old 4-track mainline carving its way through the landscape. All of this capped of with the Pennsy position light signals.

As we got the highball out of Johnstown, my cell phone rang. I answered, expecting a friend. Instead it was one of the parents from my school. She was irate that arrangements that I had made for her to get paper work from the school had fallen through. I informed her that I was on vacation, but I thought that I could get the problem resolved within a day. So, I played business executive as we climbed up to the Horseshoe Curve. After three or four calls, I had the problem resolved by the time we left Altoona.

The excellence of service continued with lunch. I was enjoying my rooms so much; I asked if I could have lunch there instead. The attendant was very accommodating, and lunch was served with a flourish as we sat on the north side of the Horseshoe Curve waiting for a clear signal. The cheeseburger was pretty tasty . . . or did the surroundings distract my taste buds? Not sure . . . but I enjoyed it none the less.

Freight traffic around Altoona caused us to lose about 40 minutes, which was never gained back despite padding into Harrisburg. I enjoyed the crossing of the Susquehanna River, always a highlight of this route. We lost additional time between Harrisburg and Lancaster as we passed areas where the track was being upgraded in the Keystone Corridor. From Lancaster to Paoli, the Three Rivers passes through the Dutch country, which had a golden tint to it in the afternoon sun.

We sat for about 45 minute in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, and thus still did not make up time even though I believe the possibility existed to do so. Eventually, we departed, the train accelerating crisply, until we had an abrupt halt at the north end of the station which caused the door on my compartment to shut. After 7 or 8 minutes, we made a leisurely jaunt through zoo junction before accelerating on to the NEC for a quick run to Trenton, where I detrained.

I was staying at the Marriott on Lafayette square, which was about a mile from the station. The Marriott was supposed to provide a shuttle, but no dice. It was busy. A short cab ride took me to the hotel, which was clean and comfortable. I would recommend this hotel to rail fans who can take advantage of the weekend rates that Marriott offers. With its proximity to the Trenton Amtrak station, it offers rail fans a good home base to explore Philadelphia or New York City.

Part 2 - Trenton to Buffalo on the Amcans

July 14

The next morning I woke early at the Marriott to make sure I would get a good breakfast. There would be no dining cars today. The buffet breakfast was filling and delicious. The service was attentive. I checked out and went to the lobby to confirm my shuttle arrangements to the station. A pretty lady, the hotel manager, was bustling around ensuring that guests needs were met. She stopped to talk with me, and when I shared my experience at dinner the night before in the hotel restaurant (the service had been somewhat rude and dismissive) she was immediately concerned. She tried to comp me breakfast, but I did not feel that was appropriate. Her demeanor indicated that the idiots who had been rude and dismissive the night before would experience consequences, and thus I was satisfied. Then the manager insisted on getting a bell hop to drive me to the station using the second van (the first was on another trip and I was waiting for it to return). This extra effort allowed me to catch an earlier train to New York's Penn Station. I was pleased with her efforts.

The train arrived (a string of Amfleet-I cars) on time. I boarded and found a window seat on the left side. The train filled up quickly as it made all of the stops on the way to New York. I enjoyed my music. At one point as we accelerated to top speed, my MP3 player enhanced the moment as it randomly selected Rocket Ride by Kiss.

Arrived Penn Station on time, and I wandered around investigating restaurant for lunch options. Eventually, I found a place that sold bagels with lox and cream cheese spread. I bought two to eat on the train later in the day. It was now about 10 a.m, and time to meet the Rail Fest crew under the departures board. I ambled on over, and like rail fans everywhere, they were on time. Kevin Korell, the organizer of several Rail Fest trips, was there with his son Michael. Alan Burden and a few others there too. When #284 was ready for boarding, we all situated ourselves in the same car. The plan was to ride to Syracuse, get off in Syracuse and ride the ONTRACK RDC commuter train to Syracuse University and back. And then continue on to Buffalo exchange street station on a later train.

For detailed information about our travel to Buffalo and on to Toronto, please see the main Toronto Rail Fest Report.

Kevin and Alan have an encyclopedic knowledge of the extensive railroad operations around NYC. And they provided commentary as we proceeded up the Hudson River to Albany. Our plans began to look compromised as we experienced a series of slow orders and meets on the way into Albany. We discussed the possibility of remaining on the train and just continuing on to Buffalo.

Then we began to discuss how late 48 was. Harry Sutton would be taking that train into Buffalo the following day. So we called Julie, and she seemed to struggle with Kevin's pronunciation of "48", New York City, etc. So I stated, "Julie ALWAYS gives me MY train status", and then my cell phone proceeded to lose its signal. Eventually we discovered that 48 was running around 4 hours late.

We arrived and departed Albany late. There was enough time to stand on the platform and admire the new station. As we departed, Kevin noticed that the Turboliner train set was sitting in the yard rather than making its trip to and from New York City. He began to speculate that he would not be riding the Turboliner from Albany to New York on the last leg of his trip even though he had arranged his itinerary to do so.

#284 stayed even, and possibly made up some time between Albany and Syracuse. At times, CSX had us on the "wrong main" to overtake freight trains. Our plans for Syracuse were looking better until a rainstorm arrived moments before we arrived in Syracuse. Earlier, we had received permission from the conductor to remain on board to Buffalo if our plans in Syracuse fell through. With the downpour, we decided to stay on the train to Buffalo.

At Syracuse, the train had been close to on schedule. However, between Syracuse and Rochester, we were stuck behind a freight train, and rode along at about 40 mph for 30 minutes. Thus we were 20 to 30 minutes late into Rochester, and also into Buffalo Exchange Street.

With most of us staying at the Doubletree hotel near the medical center and one staying in the hostel, the light rail line was the best way to get to the evening's lodgings. The light rail was 2 to 3 blocks away from the Amtrak station. The stop for our hotel was about 4 stops down the line, or 15 minutes away. A brisk 10 minute walk later, we were at the Doubletree hotel. While a bit far from the Amtrak station, the hotel provided an excellent level of comfort, plus Amtrak reward points at a reasonable price. The pizza served in the hotel bar was a highlight. The hotel provided a business center free of use, so all of us checked Email and checked the status of Harry Sutton's 48 out of Chicago. It left Chicago pretty close to on time.

Part 3 - Buffalo light rail, and on to Toronto

July 15

With only one light rail line to ride in Buffalo, we had a leisurely start to the day. Harry's train was close to on time, and he took a cab from the Depew station to the hotel. We all sat around talking trains and having second and third cups of coffee. It was pouring rain outside when we did set out for our ride on the light rail. We rode back towards the downtown areas, and then out to the end of the line. In the "free zone", the cars operate down the middle of the street in a major business area of Buffalo. Restaurants and one of the more expensive hotel properties line the route in the free zone. One the trains leave the free zone, they enter a subway, and continue in the subway to the end of the line.

We had lunch at a subway restaurant at the end of the line, and then rode back downtown so one person could get his bag from the hostel, and then join us at our hotel so that we could ride together to the Amtrak station in the complimentary hotel shuttle. The group was too large to fit in one van, so the driver was going to make two trips because the other driver was making another trip. No problem we thought. The Maple leaf was running a little late. Then we arrived at the station and the ticket agent told us that the train had just arrived Depew. I called Alan so he could tell the driver to step on it, and somebody else called group members who were riding up from New York. The people on the train reported that they were sitting east of the Depew station waiting for a freight train. No worries. Alan's van arrived, and everyone piled out hurrying, only to find out that the trains was still going to be a little late.

The Maple leaf consisted of several Amfleet cars. We all boarded the same car, and claimed our window seats. I immediately noted the lack of leg room, and remembered the lack of leg room from the previous day's trip, and then mentally noted that this might be a trip that is a bit too long for a ride in an Amfleet-I car.

At the border, the formalities were completed fairly quickly, and then passengers had about 40 minutes to get off and stretch our legs. A hotel that looked like it might serve as a brothel earned a few one liners as to how to spend time. I found an ATM so I could have Canadian money. We left on time.

Kevin made a trip to the snack car, and came back noting that the VIA staff had their own stock of food with sizes listed in the metric system. Another group member noted that it was impressive that they had opened right away while we still sat in the Niagara Falls station.

The train stayed on time until shortly before Oakville where we crawled along at extremely slow speeds as we joined the line from London, Ontario. Somebody with a scanner noted that the dispatcher had apologized to the crew of our train for forgetting about them. Shortly after that, we were back up to full speed. We pulled into Toronto only a few minutes late. We held court in the main hall of Union Station while determining the meeting point for tomorrow's Rail Fest activities. We agreed to meet near the information kiosk the following morning.

Part 4 - Toronto Rail Fest

July 16-July 18

From Friday to Sunday, we rode all of the subway lines and all of the street car lines. We also covered three of the GO transit lines. For details of our activities in Buffalo and Toronto, please see the main Toronto Rail Fest Report.

Kevin did an outstanding job of planning the moment by moment itinerary published on the Toronto Rail Fest website. This truly was a Rail Fest. I enjoyed every moment of the trip. While riding the different routes, we conversed about trains and about life. This was a great group of guys to travel and hang out with. Check the Trip Reports page this website for trip reports for other members of the group.

Part 5 - Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto in One day

July 19

I switched hotels today. I had enough Marriott reward points to stay at the Toronto Renaissance sky dome hotel. Since my train to Montreal did not leave until 9:30 a.m., I decided to have breakfast at the sky dome hotel. A quick cab ride got me and my suitcase over there by 7:00 A.M. The front desk clerk checked, and a room was available. Within moments, my suitcase was in the room, which overlooked the tracks leading into the west side of Union Station. On the 8th floor, I could see and here most train movements. By 7:15, I was downstairs in the restaurant eating breakfast. The restaurant has large picture windows overlooking the playing field. It was set up for the CFL game that would be played later in the week while I was riding the Canadian. Excellent, novel environment, good food, and better prices than the Marriott at Eaton center. The service was good too.

After breakfast, I took a thirty minute power nap before heading over to Union Station. The sky dome hotel is about a 10 minute walk. This walk is not bad if you do not mind hauling your luggage down non-working escalators. If you do, you are better off taking a cab. Since I was on a day trip, I had one small bag. And the walk was enhanced by listening to my MP3 player. I entered Union station about 9:10, strolled up to the gate just as the VIA 1 passengers were boarding, and got on the train. The train was VIA #56. It would whisk me to Montreal at speeds up to 90 mph, arriving at 2:15 P.M. I was in car 1, seat 51. A nice feature of VIA 1 is that the ticket agent can reserve window and aisle seats when you buy your ticket. Of course I had a window.

VIA's LRC trains are superior to Amtrak's Amfleet and Horizon cars. These trains have big picture windows that are always clean, comfortable seats, and smooth quiet ride. As the train got under way, the attendant came by serving complimentary drinks. I had some OJ. Later on I had a soda, all on the house. I believe you pay extra for alcohol.

For most of the first two hours, the train skirts Lake Ontario. Passengers on the right side have lake panoramas at their elbow as they sip their drinks, eat, and read or look out the window. On the left side, one is treated to high speed meets with freights, rolling farm land, and scenic villages. On several occasions, the train crosses rivers emptying into Lake Ontario on long, dramatic bridges. Boats line the sides of some rivers as they sit in docks. In summary, a nice train ride.

As lunch was served, the CN dispatcher stuck us behind a freight, and we had slow run into Kingston, Ontario. We were about 25 minutes late from this delay. In VIA 1, passengers have a choice of 2 or three entrées. The food is preceded by a warm towel, and on each trip in VIA 1 I have always found an entrée that I enjoy.

The trip from Kingston to Montreal is pleasing with farms, forests, and small towns creating a changing vista. As the train enters Montreal, passengers on the left are treated to views of Mont Real, the center piece of the city.

Montreal's Central station reminds me of Penn station in New York somewhat. High level platforms precede an escalator ride up to a large rectangular functional waiting room with a large board displaying updates of train arrivals and departures. With the 25 minute delay, I have a very brief layover before continuing to Ottawa.

Train 35 departs Montreal at 3:05 P.M. and arrives Ottawa at 4:57 P.M. Again, I am in VIA 1 in car 1 seat 23. For a sports fan, I have some good numbers today. Train 56 (Lawrence Taylor) and now seat 23 (You know it, MJ)

The train to Ottawa leaves Montreal on the same tracks as the train from Toronto, diverging shortly after departing Dorval, the stop for the airport. After the switch from the main line, one expects a somewhat leisurely pace on a single track railroad. It is single track, but the pace is not leisurely. I did see a few 90 MPH signs out the window, but I do not know the top speed. The scenery is mostly farmland interrupted by forests. There are a couple of stops in small towns.

The Ottawa train station has a Spartan, modern appearance. It is clean and well maintained. Large windows on all sides let in natural light. It is a pleasant place to wait for a train. The station is not in the town center, so I did not really get to see Ottawa.

Train 49 departs Ottawa at 5:55 P.M., and arrives Toronto 10:03 P.M. I am in car 1 seat 19. This is the same train that brought us in from Montreal. Also, the same on board service crew. The attendant gives me the "don't I recognize you?" as I board. He lets me move to a better window seat since seat 19 is inconsiderately located next to the wall between too windows. Note to rail fans: when making reservations on corridor trains between Windsor and Quebec City, look in the VIA timetable at the car diagrams. They provide accurate information as to how seats align with the windows, and reservation agents can place you in a specific seat if you request it.

The Ottawa to Toronto train passes through farms and forests until it gets to Brockville. There, it regains the Toronto-Montreal line. After Kingston, dinner is served as we ride along Lake Ontario. The sun sets a golden glow on the water. This was a fine ending to an awesome day of railroading.

Part 6 - The Canadian

July 20

The Canadian departs Toronto at 9 a.m. Thus, I had a wake up call for 6:45 a.m. After a shower and quick packing session, down to the restaurant for one last breakfast in Toronto. Again, the service in the restaurant was efficient, and the food delicious. After breakfast, I returned to my room, made a few quick phone calls to friends and family, and then did a video checkout on the TV. Even though it is possible to walk to Union Station, I opted for a cab. 5 minutes later I was walking through the concourse of Union station for one last time. I made a quick stop to buy AAA batteries for my Bose noise canceling headphones, and then headed for the gate.

The sleeping car passengers were being boarded, and thus I did not even have to wait. My car, (forgot the car number) was positioned at the top of the stairs. I had roomette number 3, and the car name was Franklin Manner. Again, I marveled at the perfect size of a roomette. My suitcase, which was fairly big, fit neatly into the overhead rack. My small bag with reading material, music, and scanner took up residence on the toilet, or fit easily under the seat when I used the toilet as a foot rest. (It has a padded cover, so this is not as awful as it sounds.)

The attendant, Brenda, was a cheerful lady who enjoyed providing customer service. She explained dining arrangements and the location of the nearest dome car. Of course, I could go back to the Park car, which was 6 or 7 cars to the rear. There were several skyline dome cars spread evenly through out the train, and at least two diners, if not three. I walked back to the nearest dome car, and grabbed a seat. As we were waiting for the highball from Toronto, Brenda came back and informed me that I would be eating in a different dining car from the one that she had originally assigned me to. Each dining car serves a set of sleeping cars, thus ensuring that everyone on the train eats in a timely manner. I was assigned to the early seating for lunch and dinner.

The Canadian departed Toronto on time, and made its way through the northern suburbs of Toronto. I enjoyed the delights of riding in the dome car. I watched the signals change from green to red as the engine passed into a new block. I savored the moments when the 18 car train negotiated curves along the shores of Ontario lakes. And I surveyed the 360 degree panorama of ever changing vistas.

After an hour or so in the dome, I returned to my room for a nap. When I lowered the bed, I noticed that the linens now included a comforter rather than the traditional Pullman blankets. The linens and pillow felt new, not worn, and provided for a sound power nap before lunch.

I made my way to the diner for lunch, and noted that the white table cloths still were in use, and that plates and silver would be used. The menu was definitely modern. I recall a venison burger, something with lentil beans, and one or two other strange combinations that would be served a typical yuppie restaurant in Chicago. I opted for the grilled cheese of the Children's menu.

My table companions were a gentle man from the Netherlands, and a 20 year old making his first trip by train. Both were going to Vancouver. Thus ensued the strangest conversation I have ever had in a railroad dining car. The man from Europe provided the usual dining car topics of past trips and questions about this trip. The younger man from Toronto explained that he was from one of the toughest neighborhoods in Toronto. When he found out that I was from Chicago, and that I taught in the inner city, he started asking me about the gangs. So...he flashed gang signs of all of the gangs in his neighborhood, and asked if I had seen these in Chicago. No...I had not. In the back of my mind, I thought that if he came through Chicago, he should stay in Union Station for his own safety. Throughout the conversation, he was polite, and he expressed excitement about his first train trip. So I provided pointers that would help him enjoy his trip. He reminded me of some of my students, so I really was not too upset with his discussion of gangs. By the way, he was white, and spoke with a Canadian accent, which added to the surreal nature of this conversation.

After lunch, I walked through the entire train to explore. I made notes in my PC phone, but the phone died an untimely death later on in my trip, losing all of my notes. I recall that after the engines, there were one or two baggage cars, two coaches, a skyline car for coach passengers, and then a combination of sleeping cars, dining cars, and skyline dome cars with the Park car on the end. The total number of cars was 18, and the lead engine was painted (or wrapped) in "Spiderman colors" to promote Spiderman 2. The Canadian is definitely a fun train to walk through. Each car is named and has a sign explaining the history behind the name.

I ended up in the Park Car to finish the afternoon with a ride in the dome car. At Capreol, Ontario the Canadian stops for 30 minutes for servicing. I got off and walked around to get fresh air. One lady was looking for a place to buy a paperback book. She did not like the one she had . . . and was ready to go into town. Since there really was no town, I suggested that she try one of my Clancy novels. I told her the next Canadian would not pass through until the day after tomorrow. Her response was . . . "So?" I didn't say anything, but thought "damn, miss the train if you want, it isn't my problem". When I returned from dinner, my Clancy was gone, and a thank you note had been written on a post-it and attached to the toilet cover. I knew that she had not missed the train.

Dinner was less yuppiefied. I had delicious roast beef with mashed potatoes. The service was perfect. After dinner, I went to the skyline car to play bingo. Each skyline car serves as a social center for the neighboring sleepers. The tone tends to be set by the attendant working in that car. The lady working in this car was pregnant, and somewhat tired. When we played bingo, she failed to adequately shuffle the cards between games. When the same two people won the first 3 games, some grumbling occurred. One 12 year old heavy set boy stated clearly, "this is BS" to the embarrassment of his mother who elbowed him. The attendant, barked, "Who swore?" as her eyes scanned the passengers in the dome. I wondered if I was in school or in First Class. I did not win anything, but two older ladies won the grand price of a bottle of Champaign. They had been grumbling about the attendant's half hearted effort each time she went downstairs to wait on passengers who were buying drinks. I was glad that they won, and suggested that the party would be in their room. They laughed and giggled on their way out.

I went to bed and had an enjoyable night's sleep. One of the best features of the Canadian is the shower in each sleeper. In the morning, you wake up, shower, and go to breakfast. I had pancakes, bacon, and oatmeal with a cup of coffee. A perfect breakfast.

July 21

Day 2 on the Canadian is a repeat of Day 1 with trees, lakes, and a long stop in a small town. I really did not monitor the train's progress. Rather, I just savored being away from it all. No cell phone signal, no reminders of work, no reminders of real, everyday life. Just a state of being on the train. My MP3 player enhanced the experience. Lunch was delicious, and the afternoon passed pleasantly.

We arrived into Winnipeg on time. I got off the train and entered the station. After snacking on popcorn from the snack bar, I returned a call from a message on my cell phone. Then I called and caught up with work place gossip. Uh, reality. Soon, the boarding call was made, and I was back into train land.

The on board service crew changes in Winnipeg. In my case, it was a change for the worst. I was interested in the second seating for dinner, and I assumed that since I had had first seating for the first part of the trip, it would be easy to change. The lady who had borrowed my Clancy had similar feelings. I advised the porter that we both were interested in the 2nd seating for dinner. Usually, the crew members on the Canadian handle these requests with skill and flair that is uncommon on Amtrak. I put on my headphones, and cranked up the volume as I listed to "Ballbreaker" from AC/DC. About 6 songs later, I began to have a funny feeling. Of course, I had not heard the first call for dinner, but I was assuming that the attendant would return and advise me if the second seating was not possible. Wrong! I walked up to my assigned diner, and saw that dinner was well in progress. The Maitre D looked at me kind of funny when I explained my desire for the 2nd seating of dinner. He explained that the company's policy was for passengers to receive seating assignments for lunch and dinner based on the time they ate breakfast. Thus, I should have gone to the first seating. He said that he would try to work me into the 2nd seating, but there would be no promises. Thus, I might have to wait until the 3rd seating or eat in my room. The Maitre D was trying to be helpful, but I was really annoyed with the sleeping car attendant. He should have known the policy, and advised me to go to the first seating.

I located the On board Service Chief and explained my irritation. He focused on explaining policy, and I focused on the lax behavior of the sleeping car attendant. We did this dance for about 3 rounds before I got him to understand my complaint. Once I ate, the dinner was excellent, and the service was excellent too.

On the first night out of Toronto I had been given bottled water. No water tonight. I made a mental note to stiff this stiff when we arrived into Vancouver.

July 22

I woke up early again. The Canadian was keeping time, and from earlier trips on the Canadian I knew to look for a long bridge crossing a river that is usually shrouded in fog. Again, I was lucky and enjoyed this view before breakfast.

After the stop in Edmonton where the station is now by the airport, we continued west. At lunch, I ordered pizza for the second time, avoiding the weird yuppie combinations on the adult menu. I was dining again with the young man from Toronto. He decided to experiment. When the meals arrived, he looked longingly at my Pizza. "Damn . . . I should have order pizza. This is nasty!" He was too embarrassed to send it back. The next moments proved why the Canadian is one of the all time great trains. The waitress observed my tablemate's lack of enthusiasm for his meal, and asked if he would like pizza instead. "Is that OK?' he asked. "Sure" she said. The waitress had not heard him complain; she had sensed his displeasure and had taken the initiative to resolve his displeasure. This was definitely first class service. When his pizza came, he inhaled it, and thanked the waitress repeatedly. I advised him that we would soon be entering the Rocky Mountains, and that he should head to the Park car with his Camera. We agreed to meet in the Park car in 30 minutes.

The Canadian's entrance into Jasper is one of the most dramatic train rides in the world. The young man from Toronto had never seen the Rockies, and he literally ricocheted from one part of the dome to the other to get pictures. The other passengers enjoyed his excitement, and pretended not to hear some of his less appropriate exclamations of excitement. I was glad that he was enjoying the scenery, and I hoped that I might be creating another rail fan. I hoped that he would see that there was more to life than gangs.

We arrived into Jasper on time, and thus had about 90 minutes to walk around the town. I saved my digital pictures to a CDROM at a small store, and found a place to buy a snack. The mountains surround Jasper, and provide a backdrop for enjoying the fresh air. I checked email, and made phone calls before getting back on the train.

As the train pulled out of Jasper, the porter made his first appearance since Winnipeg. I had forgotten what he looked like. He knocked on my door, and when I opened he greeted me enthusiastically. I assumed that he must have recognized me from another trip. So I said, "Were you on here when I traveled in the winter, or in the summer." He looked at me like I was crazy. "No, I've been your attendant since Winnipeg." I said, "Oh...well I haven't SEEN you since Winnipeg so I forgot what you looked like." He muttered that my door had been shut a lot. I reminded him that he owed me two bottles of water. Later that night, I got 1. This guy was a real loser.

The remainder of the day consisted of fabulous mountain vistas. I spent time in the dome car, and enjoyed the views from the dining car. The blackened fish was way too spicy, and thus my last meal on the Canadian was anti-climatic. I wished that they had a simple red meat dish option for each evening. Or just repeat the roast beef.

I went to bed at about 9:30, and it was still light out. During the night, I awoke as the train negotiated Fraser Canyon. I could see the headlight of the Canadian as it twisted through the Canyon. On other side, I saw a freight train on the Canadian Pacific line. I drifted back to sleep.

July 23

Early in the morning, I got up and showered and shaved, and then napped until breakfast. The train had filled up and Jasper and I did not want to wait in line to shower.

The last breakfast on the Canadian was a continental one, but it was good. I had cereal and toast, plus something else. But I felt filled when I left the dining car.

We were on time into Vancouver. When I got off, I discovered that Vancouver was in the midst of a heat wave. Later, I discovered that the temperature was close to 100 degrees.

I found a cab driver who knew of a place where I could drop off my laundry to have it done and so I could pick it up later in the day before continuing on to Seattle on the Talgo train. After taking care of the Laundry, I decided I wanted a second breakfast, so I walked over to the Westin hotel that was nearby. This time, it was pancakes and bacon as I read the paper. I determined that the Bourne Supremacy was playing a several theaters in downtown Vancouver. Since I had toured Vancouver previously, I opted for the movie. After the movie, I hailed a cab driver who was on the last 20 minutes of his shift. We had a madcap ride to the laundry mat and back to the station so that he could put gas in his cab and not be fined for returning late. It was fun, and I left a big tip.

Part 7 - The Talgo and Empire Builder

July 23

The heat was oppressive, and the station had no AC. Thus I had an uncomfortable wait. I lined up early for the check in. I was first in line so that I could guarantee getting a window seat. The Talgo from Vancouver to Seattle is a unique operation. They start boarding passengers about an hour before departure. Before getting on the train, passengers go through U.S. customs, which is in a room in the station. Then the passengers walk down a platform that is surrounded by a high fence on one side, and the train on the other.

I observed the Amtrak employee, an assistant conductor, I think, while I waited. I could see that this was your classic Amjerk. He casually took his time walking over to check us in after we had observed him socializing with the customs agents. After checking in the business class passengers, he started on coach. I handed him a ticket, and stated, "I would like a window seat on the right side, please" If you sit on the right, you see all of the water views as the skirts Puget Sound. The Amjerk said, "Well . . . I don't know about that, I will see what I got . . . everyone wants to be on that side" I reminded him that I was first in line, and that it could not be that hard. I said, "I don't understand why you are giving me a hard time." He said, "well... I got to pick on somebody, don't I?" I said, "Fine...{named omitted}, that is the attitude I'm going take when I write my letter to Amtrak to complain about you if I don't get my window seat." The Amjerk then pointed at his name badge and said he did not care what I did. When I boarded the train, I did have the seat where I wanted it, but I did not know what this idiot's problem was. Throughout the trip, when he saw me, he refused to make eye contact. So I think that he and I both know who his daddy is...ME!

The other strange part of the Talgo service is that the first sitting of dinner is served before the train leaves the station. For some reason, it is illegal to serve alcohol while the train sits in the station. Several announcements were made to this effect, but since passengers were boarding the train at different times since they were being filtered by customs, it was a given that passengers would select the first seating and then order alcohol. The attendant was of course irritated, and scolded the passengers for not listening to her announcements. The passengers were considering leaving and returning for the second sitting. I advised them to wait, because the train would be crowded, and then they might get waitlisted for the second seating. Also, the train would be departing in about 15 minutes. If they ate their salads slowly, they could then order alcohol once the train started moving. The attendant must have overheard me. She returned with their salads, and advised them to eat slowly. She seemed relieved when she gave this advice. From then on, her attitude improved, and the service was good.

We were delayed about 45 minutes when the bridge over the Frasier River was stuck in the open position. I had visions of a very long night when the announcement was first made, but was relieved with only a 45 minute delay.

The Talgo train features large, clean windows with comfortable seats. There are TV's that hang down from the ceiling. The screens show the progress of the train as it moves along the route. There are predicted times of arrivals for the next stop, and for the final stop, Seattle. This is a neat feature.

The Talgo has single wheel axles that are underneath the connection between cars. Each car is shorter than a normal passenger car. So when you walk through the train, it is like walking through a series of smaller rooms with normal coach seating. The ride is considerably bumpier on jointed rail. The cars bump along, and seem to be slapped from side to side. On some of the improved track in Washington, the train glided along easily out pacing cars on the adjacent I-5.

We arrived about 30 minutes late into Seattle. I had to walk a block from the station to get to the hotel. Seattle was also experiencing a heat wave. I hoped that the Renaissance hotel would be well air-conditioned. The lobby doors were wide open, and the lobby was warm. The lady who checked me in apologized that the hotel was full, and that she only had a smoking room left. I was not impressed.

When I opened the door, I discovered that I had been upgraded to a corner suite. There were two separate rooms. The AC was on full blast. The thermostat read 57 degrees. I was happy. It was now bout 11:30, so I was tired and ready for bed. A quick shower fixed the issue of being sweaty. I slept well.

July 24-26

I spent the next morning maximizing the use of my hotel room. I napped after breakfast, and did not check out until noon. I caught an early showing of I, Robot. When the movie let out, it was about 2:30. I walked around the mall until 3, and then took a cab back to the hotel to collect my luggage to continue on to the station. I arrived at King Street station at about 3:30. It was HOT! The pop machine was working. There were hints about future remodeling, but no current evidence. Boy does this station need it!

The boarding process for the Empire Builder was painless, and I was in room 8 of the Superliner II sleeper, Maryland. The room was clean, the AC was working, and I was happy.

There have been several excellent trip reports on this web site for the Empire Builder, so I will keep this part shorter than the others.

In general, I prefer riding the Empire Builder eastbound because you cross Steven's Pass during dinner, and then spend the next morning passing through Glacier Park. After lunch, you roll across the plains of Montana. For some reason, seeing the scenery in this order is preferable. The plains do not seem as monotonous as the do traveling west bound.

The crew provided decent service. Nothing exceptional, but the train ride was still very enjoyable. I was somewhat sad to have the trip end.

The Empire Builder stayed on time for the entire trip. There were no significant freight train delays. In fact, I had only experienced a significant delay on the Three Rivers on the first leg of the trip. And this delay was only about 75 minutes. Thus, I spent two weeks riding trains with no serious delays. That is significant.

Now...I ought to get some of my money back since there were no delays and thus no extra time on the train!!!

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