It's 9:47 a.m. on Wednesday, January 19, 2005, and I've just arrived at Penn Station in New York, where I will be boarding the Silver Star, on my way to Miami.
I left my home in Teaneck about 8:15 a.m. this morning, and my friend Arvin drove me to the Anderson Street station in Hackensack, where I would be boarding NJ Transit's Pascack Valley Line Train #1618, scheduled to depart at 8:37 a.m. We arrived at the station about 8:23 a.m. After thanking Arvin for the ride, I gathered my belongings and walked over to the ticket machine to purchase a ticket for my trip. I decided to buy a one-way ticket to Secaucus Transfer for $1.80, with the intent of using another ticket that I had to get through the fare gates at Secaucus so that I could access the Northeast Corridor platforms for my connecting train to Penn Station. I then went into the heated waiting room that is provided at this historic station. The temperature outside was about 10 degrees, so as many as ten people chose to wait inside today (usually, almost everyone waits outside for the train).
Our train arrived on time at 8:37 a.m. It was pushed by engine #4100 and included coaches 1752, 1716 and 5742 and cab car 5108. I boarded the second car and sat in the first forward-facing seat in the middle of the car, thus permitting me to place my luggage behind the seat.
As we departed Wood-Ridge, our last stop on the Pascack Valley Line, at 8:43 a.m., the conductor announced that all service on the Northeast Corridor to Penn Station, New York has been suspended, and that passengers wishing to go to New York should proceed to Hoboken and take a PATH train, with NJ Transit tickets being honored on PATH. The cause of the service suspension was not stated. This is not what I had expected to happen, but I would still have time to get to Penn Station via PATH even if my train would be departing on time at 10:00 a.m. If, indeed, all service in and out of Penn Station is truly suspended, my train to Florida will obviously be delayed. But if that is the case, I'd rather be waiting in the comfort of the Metropolitan Lounge (a/k/a Club Acela) in Penn Station than anywhere else.
When we arrived at Secaucus Junction at 8:57 a.m., the service suspension announcement was repeated, and hardly anyone detrained. In view of the situation, I decided to remain on board. After we departed, the conductor collected tickets, and my Anderson Street-Secaucus Junction ticket was accepted without question for the ride all the way to Hoboken. We pulled into Track 2 at the Hoboken Terminal at 9:07 a.m., one minute early.
I detrained and, after walking back along the platform to record the number of the engine and the two rear coaches, went down to the PATH station. The middle platform (which can be used to access both Track 1 and Track 2) was jam-packed with people, many of whom, presumably, would have preferred to take NJ Transit all the way to Penn Station. I showed an NJ Transit ticket to a PATH employee stationed next to the turnstiles, and he let me pass through without paying. I chose to wait on the much-less-crowded left platform, which accesses only Track 1. A 33rd Street train arrived on Track 2 at 9:15 a.m. and departed soon afterwards. When the next 33rd Street train arrived on Track 1 a few minutes later, the doors facing my platform opened first, so I was able to get a seat (and I sat next to an unused conductor's operating position, which provided room to store my luggage). We departed Hoboken at 9:22 a.m. and arrived at the 33rd Street station at 9:37 a.m. The PATH train, of course, was jam-packed, and hardly anyone got off until we reached the 14th Street station, with the vast majority of the passengers remaining on board all the way to 33rd Street.
I went upstairs and walked the one long block over to Penn Station, where I arrived at 9:47 a.m. Somewhat to my surprise, the NJ Transit departures monitor that I first encountered indicated that all trains were running on time! And the Amtrak departures monitor stated that the Silver Star was already boarding on Track 12! It looks like whatever problem had developed with the Northeast Corridor has already been fixed, and everything is now back to normal. (It appears that the problem related to frozen switches, which they had in the meantime managed to unfreeze.)
By the time I got over to the gate for Track 12 and walked down to my train, it was 9:54 a.m. - only seven minutes before our scheduled departure. Not only would I have no time to spend in the Metropolitan Lounge, but I would barely have time to walk down the platform to record the consist! As instructed by the attendant at the gate, when I reached the platform, I walked towards the front of the train to board my Viewliner sleeper #62003, Bay View, where I have been assigned Room #1. The attendant took my luggage to the room, and even offered to lift my suitcase up to the luggage rack (an offer which I declined, since I wanted to take a few things out of the suitcase, first). I did manage to walk to the front of the train to record part of the consist, but we departed at 10:04 a.m., only three minutes late.
Today's Silver Star is pulled by AEM-7 engine #904 and includes a baggage car, a crew dorm car, three Viewliner sleepers - Morning View, Evening View and Bay View - a Heritage diner, an Amfleet II lounge car and three unreconditioned Amfleet II coaches (with their original red seats). Our diner, #8553, was built for the New York Central Railroad in 1948, making it one of the oldest cars still in service on Amtrak.
I was a little thirsty, not having the opportunity to obtain anything to drink in the Metropolitan Lounge, so I took some orange juice that had been placed in the serving area at the rear of the car. I then settled into my room and watched as we passed through the Meadowlands and went by the Secaucus Junction station. Soon, I took out my computer and started working on these memoirs. I also made a few calls from my cell phone. It was cold, cloudy and rather dreary outside, but there was virtually no snow on the ground.
Between Newark and Trenton, I walked to the rear of the train and found that there were only a total of 30 passengers in the three coaches, with the passengers being assigned to particular coaches according to their destination. Several coach passengers were going to Tampa, but I didn't see anyone with a seat check indicating that they were going further south (this is not surprising, as the Silver Meteor, which leaves later in the day, provides faster service from points in the northeast to the east coast of southern Florida). And the sleepers did not appear to be anywhere near full, either. My attendant stated that it was unlikely that all of the rooms in my car would be filled.
I stepped off the train briefly when we stopped at Philadelphia. We arrived six minutes early and departed at 11:35 a.m., on time. Then, as we approached Wilmington, I noticed the Old Swedes Church just to the right of the tracks. It had now begun to snow lightly. We pulled into the Wilmington station at 11:57 a.m. and departed at 12:01 p.m., one minute late.
I now went to the dining car for lunch. I was seated opposite a woman who had just boarded the train in Wilmington and was on her way to Tampa to visit her sister, who spent some time near there in the winter. She commented that she did not like to fly but very much enjoyed traveling by train. Like me, she was in a sleeper. By now, the snow had intensified somewhat, and the views were obscured by the blowing snow stirred up by the train. We were both served very promptly.
Very few people chose to eat lunch in the dining car today - I counted only about ten passengers there during my meal. However, the evening meal is usually much more popular, and the steward came around to take reservations. I chose the 6:30 p.m. sitting.
I remained in the dining car until we arrived in Baltimore at 12:49 p.m., twelve minutes early. I then returned to my room and took a few pictures of the station and of passing trains. During our station stop, we were passed by a northbound Regional train (presumably, Train #176, scheduled to depart at 12:47 p.m.) and by a southbound Acela Express train. The latter must have been Train #2153, which had been scheduled to depart Baltimore at 12:09 p.m. and was therefore running about 45 minutes late.
Not having had much sleep last night, I dozed off a little, and awoke at 1:42 p.m. as we were pulling into Track 23 of Washington Union Station. Since we change engines here and are not scheduled to depart until 2:05 p.m., I decided to go upstairs and check out the station. I found a large crowd of people awaiting the 2:00 p.m. departure of Acela Express Train #2168 to Boston. Looking at the arrivals monitor, I noticed that both northbound trains from Florida - the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star - were running about five hours late.
Quite a number of police and security personnel were visible around the station, which was bustling with activity related to the Presidential Inauguration, scheduled to be held tomorrow. I noticed a group of police officers with uniforms from the Dayton Police. They confirmed that they were from Dayton, Ohio and had been sent to Washington to assist with security for the inauguration. When I approached the Great Hall, a sign advised that it was closed for a private event. The huge room was filled with tables and chairs, and a security guard confirmed that the event being held there was an inaugural ball. Another item of interest was a sign outside the ticket windows informing passengers that on January 20-21, all checked bags will be screened for explosives by the Transportation Security Administration.
It was now about 1:55 p.m., so I decided to return to my train. When I walked down to the platform, no diesel engine had yet been added to the train, but soon an engine backed up onto our consist. Somewhat to my amusement, I discovered that our train today would be pulled by "The Powerful Toyota Tundra." Amtrak engine #84 (which had been damaged in a grade-crossing accident on the City of New Orleans on October 24, 2003) has been repainted to promote this four-wheel drive vehicle, and this is the engine that has been selected to power our train! I took a few pictures of this uniquely-painted engine and walked back to reboard the train. On the way, I encountered an Amtrak employee shoveling from the platform the inch-or-so of snow that had already fallen.
Once aboard, I heard another Amtrak employee mention that a private car was being added to our train. Immediately afterwards, I felt a slight bump, indicating that we had just coupled onto the private car. Since the departure time of our train was imminent, I didn't have a chance to go outside and see what car it was. We finally pulled out of Washington Union Station at 2:11 p.m., six minutes late.
Our next stop was Alexandria, where we arrived at 2:28 p.m., four minutes late. Because of the short length of the platform here, we had to make two stops - one for the baggage and sleepers; the other for the coaches. The first stop lasted for six minutes (apparently, in part, due to a delay in locating a piece of luggage that had to be put on the train), and we did not depart until 2:37 p.m., 13 minutes late.
Soon afterwards, the lounge car was reopened (it had been closed since our departure from Washington), and I walked to the back of the train. There were now about 80 passengers in the three coaches, with most seat pairs in the first two cars occupied by at least one person. I then returned to my room, took out my copy of the relevant pages from the Rail Ventures book, and followed our progress as we passed by several features of interest. The snow had now stopped and the sun briefly peeked out, with the ground topped with a relatively light cover of snow.
We came to a stop at 4:02 p.m. at North Doswell, where our route, the former Richmond, Fredricksburg and Potomac, crosses the ex-Chesapeake & Ohio main line to Newport News. We started moving again at 4:11 p.m. and immediately passed a southbound CSX freight train. At the crossing of the C&O line, an attractive brick building once served as a joint station for both railroads, but no trains have stopped here for many years.
Soon, we slowed down to pass through the City of Ashland, where the tracks run along an island in the middle of the main street, and the track speed is about 30 miles an hour. Ashland is the home of Macon-Randolph College, which occupies many buildings adjacent to the tracks.
A few minutes later, I heard a defect detector sound off at mile 8.1, track 3. What was unusual about this detector was that it was identified as an Amtrak defect detector, not a CSX detector. Apparently, this track, which leads to the Staples Mill Road Amtrak station in Richmond, is maintained by Amtrak, and Amtrak decided to install the detector here
As a result of the various delays we encountered between Alexandria and Richmond, we did not pull into the Staples Mill Road station in Richmond until 4:40 p.m., 36 minutes late. I detrained and walked down the platform to the rear of the train, where I discovered that there were not one, but two CSX business cars - Washington and Georgia - behind the coaches. (Interestingly, I had just heard the Amtrak detector report that our train had 54 axles - a number not divisible by four - which results from the fact that one of the CSX business cars has six axles.) I took a few pictures of these cars and briefly walked into the unattractive modern Amtrak station, which was crowded with people waiting for various delayed trains, including southbound Train #95 to Newport News, which was scheduled to arrive in Richmond at 4:40 p.m. but was shown to be 45 minutes late. The northbound Silver Star, Train #92, scheduled to arrive Richmond at 12:30 p.m., had not yet arrived. Soon, the final "all-aboard" call for our train was made, so I reboarded at the second coach and walked back to my room. We departed Richmond at 4:51 p.m., still 36 minutes late.
At 5:14 p.m., after a brief stop, we passed the northbound Palmetto, Train #90. This train was scheduled to arrive in Richmond at 3:30 p.m., so it is running about two hours late. We again came to a stop at 5:30 p.m. By now, it was pretty dark out. This time, it took ten minutes to get a clear signal permitting us to proceed. Finally, at 6:04 p.m., we reached the Petersburg station. We made a very brief stop here, as only one passenger was getting off, and no one got on. But we were now one hour and 16 minutes late, having lost an additional 40 minutes between Richmond and Petersburg. (Subsequently, I was informed by another passenger that the person who was supposed to get off at Petersburg went to the wrong place on the train, and the train started moving again before he could get off. Apparently, he then called his family, who were waiting for him at Petersburg, and they agreed to drive all the way down to Raleigh to meet him there.)
Once again, I walked back to the end of the train. There were only a handful of passengers in the last coach, which was used to seat passengers destined no further than Rocky Mount, with 35 passengers in the second coach and 25 passengers (all destined for Florida) in the first coach. On the way, the conductor commented on the Amtrak Heartland Flyer cap that I was wearing. After I explained that I had ridden that train from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City and back this past October, he mentioned that he had seen me before, and asked if I was active in the National Association of Railroad Passengers. When I replied that I was a member, but not particularly active, he stated that he was the conductor on the Cardinal last April on which there were three private cars, used primarily by NARP Directors heading to their annual meeting in Washington, and that he remembered me from that train! I didn't remember him, and was quite surprised (but also delighted) that he remembered me!
At 6:18 p.m., we again came to a stop - this time, to permit the northbound Silver Star, Train #92, to pass us. That train should have arrived in Petersburg at 11:33 a.m., so it was running about seven hours late. The conductor then made an announcement over the loudspeaker that since most of the line from Washington to Miami is single-track, we have to pull into sidings to permit trains to pass us, thereby ensuring the safe operation of our train. Next, he repeated the announcement in Spanish. I think this is the first time I've heard a bilingual announcement on an Amtrak train (except on trains operating into Quebec). When he was finished, I complimented the conductor on the announcement, and he aptly pointed out that making such announcements can often prevent passengers from getting even more upset about delays.
The 6:30 p.m. dinner call was now made, so I walked back to the dining car for dinner. I was seated opposite Richard, who lives in southern Pennsylvania and had boarded the train in Wilmington. He was traveling to Columbia, South Carolina to attend the graduation of his 30-year-old brother, who had just completed Army boot camp. His father would be driving down, and he would be driving back with him, but he decided to take the train down to Columbia to see what the experience is like. He was having a very good time so far, and said that he hoped to take Amtrak again in the future, possibly bringing his whole family to Florida by train. At the table opposite us sat a couple from Bayonne, New Jersey, who had boarded the train in Newark and were traveling in a sleeper to Sebring, Florida. The wife works for the Bayonne Municipal Court and commented on the large number of light-rail fare evasion cases they have to deal with, most of which involve youth from Jersey City. She also noted her disappointment with the fact that the small movie screens in the sleepers no longer work, stating that had she known that, she would have brought along a book to read for the trip.
Much to my surprise, the dining car - even for the 6:30 p.m. sitting - was far from full, with no more than two people sitting at any table. We all enjoyed each other's company very much, as well as the food. My beef dinner was delicious, and Richard was quite impressed with the quality of the salmon entree that he chose. We remained in the diner until about 7:30 p.m., at which time we returned to our accommodations.
Except for one ten-minute stop beginning about 7:20 p.m., we seemed to have been moving at a good rate of speed since we left Petersburg. But we somehow continued to lose additional time. We did not arrive at Rocky Mount until 8:18 p.m. I didn't get off the train this time, but I recalled the time I spent at this beautifully restored station last January on the 12-hour-late Palmetto/Silver Star that I took back from Florida. Our stop here lasted for three minutes, and when we departed at 8:21 p.m., we were two hours and seven minutes late.
Again, I walked through the train and found that there were no passengers in the rear coach (although it was not closed off, since the officials in the private cars in the rear had to walk through it to get to the rest of the train) and a total of about 65 passengers in the other two coaches. The conductor mentioned to me that we should probably make up a little time on the way to Raleigh, as there is make-up time built into the schedule there. I returned to my room and made quite a number of calls from my cell phone. At first, we were in "extended network" territory, but as we approached Raleigh, the signal changed to Verizon Wireless. It was nice having the privacy of my room to make the phone calls, and I was not annoying other people, either. One of the calls was to my railfan friend Chris Blaise, whom I met on the Silver Meteor in Florida last year, renewing our friendship, and another was to Arvin Levine, who told me that he would be taking Amtrak tomorrow to Wilmington and back. It was really nice being able to use my cell phone to make all these calls - quite a contrast from the days when I would have to jump off the train at an extended station stop and hope there would be enough time to make one or two calls from a pay phone!
As the conductor predicted, we proceeded to Raleigh without undue delay and pulled into the station at 9:36 p.m. The Amtrak station in Raleigh is a modern brick building which is not particularly attractive, but it features classic wooden benches from the original historic station. I detrained from my sleeper and walked back along the platform to the rear coach, where I reboarded. I noticed that the rear CSX business car, Georgia, was equipped with a spotlight that shines back along the tracks, permitting an excellent view of track conditions, even at night. The Royal Street private car on the Cardinal that I rode last April was similarly equipped, and I fondly recall looking out of the back of that car as we proceeded after dark along the former Monon Railroad south of Chicago. When we departed Raleigh at 9:43 p.m., we were precisely two hours late, having made up seven minutes since our last stop.
I returned to my room and, after updating these memoirs, decided to go to sleep. As is my usual practice when riding in a Viewliner sleeper, which has windows on the upper level, I chose to sleep in the upper berth, which permits you to leave your belongings on the seats below. It is also much easier just to pull down the upper berth than to make up the lower berth for night occupancy. It took me a while to fall asleep, and I was awake when we stopped at Southern Pines, N.C. about 11:00 p.m., but I fell asleep soon afterwards. I slept through our stops at Hamlet and Camden, but woke up about 2:00 a.m. and remained awake for awhile.
At 2:30 a.m., I was startled to suddenly hear music loudly blaring from the loudspeaker in my room. I know that we passed through the streets of Philadelphia on our way down south yesterday, but I didn't need to hear the loud music of the song "The Streets of Philadelphia" when I was trying to fall asleep! Although I can't say that the music woke me up, as I was already awake, it was, to say the least, very annoying to hear such unwelcome sounds in the middle of the night.
At first, I thought that the music was being broadcast through the entire car, due to some mistake on the part of the attendant. However, when, after about ten minutes, I got up and walked down the hall, it became apparent that only my room was affected by this malfunction. The attendant was not in his room, so I returned to my room, climbed back into bed, and pushed the attendant call button. I also attempted to shut off the sound by pushing various buttons that are supposed to select video channels and regulate the loudness of the sound, and finally discovered that although the set of buttons right next to my bed did not seem to work, the ones just underneath did. (Viewliner rooms have a huge number of buttons controlling various functions, many of which are redundant. I counted a total of 41 buttons in my room!) Finally, I was able to turn the sound down to a level that could barely be heard. In the meantime, the attendant came by, and I indicated to him that the problem had been solved. (In the morning, when I explained to the attendant what had happened, he commented that there had been a power failure on the train last night, resulting in all electrical connections being reset, and stated that that might have been the source of the problem.) Soon after I shut off the music, we made a five-minute stop at Columbia, South Carolina, with my room facing the station platform. When we departed at 2:54 a.m., we were one minute shy of three hours late, having lost another hour since our departure from Raleigh.
It took me some time to get back to sleep, but I think that I fell asleep again by 4:00 a.m. I slept pretty soundly until about 7:00 a.m., when I woke up for good, having slept through our stops in Denmark, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. We were passing through Winokur, Georgia, milepost 592 on the line. That meant that we would soon be crossing over into Florida and arriving in Jacksonville. A few minutes later, I decide to get up. I walked down to the rear of the train, where I found that there were still only about 60 coach passengers on board. The rear coach was now closed off with a metal bar, although an Amtrak official who was following me back from the sleeper went through that car to access the private cars at the rear of the train. (Apparently, there were limited sleeping accommodations in these cars, so the Amtrak officials on board had been assigned rooms in one of the sleepers on in the crew dorm.)
I returned to my car to take a shower. First, I tried the shower in my car. There were no towels there, so I took one from my room, but when I turned on the water, only a trickle came out. So I decided instead to try the shower in the next car. Here, there were plenty of towels (and bath mats) and a more adequate supply of water. After an enjoyable shower, I returned to my room and got dressed - just as we pulled into the Jacksonville station at 7:50 a.m., precisely three hours late. Jacksonville is a scheduled service stop for the train, so I knew that we would be spending some time here.
I detrained and first walked to the back of the train to get some pictures of the CSX business cars at the rear. I discovered that the second business car, Georgia, featured a large window at the rear, extending the full width of the car, thus permitting expansive views of the track behind the train. I then walked to the front of the train to get photos of "The Powerful Toyota Tundra" that was pulling our train. While walking to the front, I heard the final boarding announcement, but the engine was still being fueled from a truck, so I knew that we would not be departing imminently. I reboarded at the first sleeper and, as I walked through the first two sleepers to return to my car, I observed that those sleepers, too, appeared to be about half empty. When we departed Jacksonville at 8:08 a.m., we were two hours and 58 minutes late. We hadn't lost any more time since we left Columbia, but we hadn't made up any time, either.
I now went to the dining car for breakfast. The car was not at all full, and I was assigned a table by myself. I ordered my usual Continental breakfast of orange juice, coffee, Rice Krispies and fruit cup, which was promptly served, and read my complimentary USA Today newspaper. I also called my friend Arvin, who was on board Regional Train #185, on his way to Wilmington, Delaware. I joked that Verizon Wireless offers free "Amtrak-to-Amtrak" calls! (Actually, we both have Verizon Wireless service, so neither of us would be charged for the call.) To the best of my recollection, this is the first time that, while on an Amtrak train, I've called someone on another train! I finished my breakfast as we made our next station stop at Palatka at 9:11 a.m. and returned to my room.
After our next station stop of DeLand, from where we departed at 10:04 a.m., I moved back to the lounge car for a change of pace. (In addition, I could see out both sides of the train from the lounge car, while the view from my room out the opposite side of the train was rather limited.) The two tables at the rear of the lounge car were occupied by a group of seven women who had boarded in Jacksonville and were headed to Winter Park, where they planned to spend the day shopping. Sitting at the table opposite me were the wife and two young children of the engineer, who would be running our train as far as Tampa. She mentioned that her husband had been an engineer for 25 years and loved his job, and that she accompanied him on his trips whenever possible. I brought my computer with me and continued working on these memoirs.
As we passed the Auto-Train terminal in Sanford, I noticed several damaged Superliner cars on yard tracks awaiting repairs. When we arrived at the deteriorated brick Sanford station at 10:23 a.m., I stepped off the train to take a few pictures. Although hardly anyone got on or off here, our stop lasted for 13 minutes because several Amtrak employees were getting on and/or off the engine (why it took so long for this to occur, I'm not sure). When we departed at 10:36 a.m., we were three hours and ten minutes late.
Soon, we approached Winter Park, our next stop. The sun now came out (it had been cloudy for much of the morning), and we started going through a very attractive residential area, culminating with the station itself, located in a beautiful park in the center of town. When we arrived at the station at 11:00 a.m., about 15 passengers detrained, including the seven women who had boarded in Jacksonville, and a significant amount of baggage was unloaded. I again stepped off the train here to take a few pictures, and our stop lasted for four minutes, largely due to the fact that a man who wanted to board the train had just arrived and had to retrieve his luggage from the station building (it seems that he had planned on boarding Train #97, which had been scheduled to depart at 10:57 a.m., but ended up taking our train instead).
I remained in the lounge car until we were approaching Orlando, our next stop. A short distance north of the current Amtrak station (itself a classic stucco masterpiece), I noticed an old steam engine parked outside the former Church Street Station, which has now been converted to a shopping mall. I returned to my room as we pulled into the Amtrak station and immediately detrained. The man occupying the room behind me got off here, and our attendant carried his baggage all the way back to the station building. I briefly walked into the station, took a few pictures, and reboarded the train at the second coach. When we departed Orlando at 11:25 a.m., after a six-minute stop, we were five minutes short of three hours late.
Walking back to my sleeper, I noticed that the last coach was no longer closed off, but no passengers were assigned to sit there. There were a total of about 75 passengers on the train leaving Orlando, with all passengers boarding in Orlando being assigned to the first coach. With about 45 passengers in this coach, it appeared to be pretty full.
Soon after we made our station stop at Kissimmee, from where we departed at 11:47 a.m., an announcement was made that the dining car was open and serving lunch. A few minutes later, I went into the diner, where I was soon served lunch. I was rather surprised to find only three other passengers eating lunch in the diner, and they all left long before I finished my meal. For about half an hour, I was the only passenger in the diner! As I finished, a single coach passenger came into the diner for lunch. One of the attendants remarked that we had a very light passenger load on the train today.
After enjoying a delicious meal, I returned to my room at 1:00 p.m. We were now approaching Tampa, which has a stub-end terminal station. The practice is for the train to turn on a wye a few miles east of Tampa and back into the station. So, at 1:04 p.m., we turned right and pulled into the wye, coming to a stop at 1:07 p.m., with our backup move beginning at 1:10 p.m. At 1:20 p.m., we made a safety stop just before the station, and then we very slowly backed in, coming to our final stop at 1:25 p.m.
The Rail Ventures book, published in the early 1990s, states that the Tampa Amtrak station "is a modern, efficient, `temporary' structure immediately behind Union Station," which "was built in 1912 in Italian Renaissance style, and has been boarded up for some time pending possible restoration." Since that was written, the station has had its own renaissance, having been restored and reopened, and the "temporary" Amshack has been removed. But, unfortunately, the number of trains serving Tampa has decreased from two to one, although service to Tampa was recently upgraded with the restoration of sleeper service and the rescheduling of the Silver Star to serve Tampa at more convenient times. The station originally had six tracks, of which four remain, but only the track that we arrived on (Track 2) shows any sign of recent use.
I detrained from the coaches and walked down the platform toward the station building. The 35-or-so coach passengers boarding in Tampa were all waiting on the platform already, but given the number of passengers waiting to board, I knew that boarding would take some time. So I briefly walked inside the station, which has been beautifully restored to its original grandeur, and took a few pictures, but I was afraid to stay there very long, because our station stop is scheduled to take only nine minutes, even when the train is on time. I reboarded the train at my sleeper, and we pulled out of the station at 1:35 p.m., again precisely three hours late. Interestingly, two passengers boarded my sleeper in Tampa.
As we departed Tampa, I noticed that we crossed a light-rail line that has recently opened. I vaguely recall reading about this line; one day, I'll have to ride it! Soon, we passed through Plant City, which features a classic brick station, located on a diamond (the intersection of two rail lines). Plant City is no longer a passenger stop, but the station has been restored and converted into a welcome center for the city.
Our next stop was Lakeland - a stop that we make both on the way to Tampa and on the way back. Lakeland features a beautiful new stucco station in a semi-classic design. One passenger detrained from the sleepers here, and about ten passengers boarded the coaches. When we departed Lakeland at 2:14 p.m., we were three hours and six minutes late.
At 2:27 p.m., we reached the McDonald Connection in Auburndale, where we turn back onto the line to Miami. This was formerly the location where the Miami and Tampa sections of the Silver Star would split. Heading to Tampa, we had reached this spot at 12:20 p.m., so the detour to Tampa had cost us over two hours in time.
We arrived at Winter Haven at 2:36 p.m. Here, we had to make two stops, one for sleeper passengers, and the other for coach passengers. I didn't get off the train here, but during the station stop, I walked back to the coaches, where I counted about 85 passengers aboard - the highest number of coach passengers I've observed so far on this train. (Presumably, many of these passengers had intended to travel on Train #97, the Silver Meteor, which has also been delayed.) With the third coach still closed off, I counted 46 passengers in the second coach, with many passengers having to share a seat with a stranger. Had I been a coach passenger on this train, I would not have appreciated this, but as a sleeping car passenger, I had no basis to complain. Our first stop lasted for six minutes, and we did not finally depart Winter Haven until 2:46 p.m., three hours and 13 minutes late.
At 3:00 p.m., we came to a stop near West Lake Wales. To our left, was Amtrak Train #98, the northbound Silver Meteor, which had a consist identical to ours, except that it had four coaches (and no private cars, of course). That train was itself about 45 minutes late, since it was scheduled to arrive Winter Park at 2:36 p.m. The crews of each train waved to each other, and we were soon on our way again.
Around this time of the year, Amtrak runs special trains to Florida for certain school groups, and we were about to meet one of these trains. At 3:19 p.m., at West Frostproof (not far south of West Lake Wales), we passed one of these special trains, with the special train taking the siding, and our train proceeding ahead on the main line without stopping. The special was pulled by two Genesis engines and had 20 cars, mostly Horizon equipment, but it also included one Amfleet car and a Superliner transition/crew dorm car in the rear.
It was getting a little stuffy in my room, so I decided to move back to the lounge car for a while. Before sitting down to do some work on my computer, I walked through the two open coaches. I now counted 95 passengers in these two cars, with 53 people in the last car, where only five single seats were unoccupied! When I returned to the lounge car at 3:35 p.m., we passed through Avon Park, which features a pink stucco depot that has been restored and now serves as a museum. South of Avon Park, we passed through a large expanse of orange groves. At 3:44 p.m., in the midst of these groves, we moved onto the Hartt siding and slowed down to pass the northbound Silver Star, Train #92. That train was scheduled to depart Sebring, our next stop, at 3:38 p.m., so it was running pretty much on time.
We arrived at Sebring at 3:53 p.m. Sebring features an attractive pink stucco station which has been restored. Our stop lasted for two minutes, and when we departed at 3:55 p.m., we were three hours and 42 minutes late, having lost another half hour since our previous stop in Winter Park. The conductor had previously mentioned to me that we should be arriving at West Palm Beach about one hour and 45 minutes after we leave Sebring, so if he is correct, we will be getting there at 5:40 p.m.
South of Sebring, the train picked up speed and the ride became noticeably rougher. We proceeded at track speed all the way to Okeechobee, where we made a brief stop to detrain one passenger at 4:31 p.m. Okeechobee's pink stucco station is abandoned, with a sign on a boarded-up door reading "this is not an Amtrak office." When we departed a minute later, we were three hours and 45 minutes late.
After having spent the last hour or so working in the lounge car on the Scenes and Walks book, I decided to return to my room. We continued our fast, uninterrupted pace, encountering no other trains all the way to West Palm Beach. I snapped a photo as we crossed the St. Lucie Canal just south of Indiantown, and continued working on the book. As we got closer to West Palm Beach, civilization began to encroach on the rather pristine setting we had been seeing. Then, at 5:21 p.m., we passed the Mangonia Park station, the northern end of Tri-Rail commuter rail service, which I plan on taking from Hollywood to the Miami International Airport. My Tri-Rail schedule shows the that the next Tri-Rail train departs Magnonia Park at 5:56 p.m. and Hollywood at 7:19 p.m. I should have no problem making that train.
Just after Tri-Rail Train #P620, scheduled to arrive Magnonia Park at 5:28 p.m., passed us, we slowed for a restrictive signal, but we soon picked up speed, and we arrived at the West Palm Beach station at 5:28 p.m. - 12 minutes earlier than the conductor had predicted! As we pulled into the station, I noticed that Tri-Rail was constructing a new station on the southbound platform. Up to now, a single platform on the east side of the tracks has served all trains, but now that the line is being double-tracked, another platform is being added on the west side of the tracks. Interestingly, the new station is designed in the same classic stucco style as the historic Seaboard Air Line station, and even the platform canopy is designed to complement the canopy on the east side of the tracks. I briefly stepped off the train here. Our stop at West Palm Beach lasted for ten minutes. When we departed at 5:38 p.m., we were three hours and 20 minutes late, having made up 25 minutes of our lateness.
At 6:03 p.m., just north of the Delray Beach station, we passed northbound Tri-Rail Train #P622. We then proceeded very slowly until we made a brief stop at the Delray Beach station at 6:11 p.m. Tri-Rail has just put into service a new southbound platform at this station, and it appears that this is the first time that our train will be stopping there. A fair number of passengers were waiting on the platform for southbound Tri-Rail Train #P625, scheduled to depart Delray Beach at 6:27 p.m.
Although my ticket read all the way to Miami, I decided instead to get off at Hollywood, the next-to-last stop on our train. This would permit me to transfer directly to Tri-Rail Train #625 on the same platform. Had I gone to the Amtrak Miami station, I would have to walk some distance in the dark along deserted streets to reach the Metrorail Transfer station - the nearest Tri-Rail stop. So it was much more convenient to detrain in Hollywood. I now proceeded to put away my belongings.
After stops in Deerfield Beach and Fort Lauderdale, we arrived at the Hollywood station at 6:56 p.m., three hours and 16 minutes late. I detrained, gave the attendant a $5.00 tip, and walked down the platform to the Tri-Rail ticket machines, where I purchased a one-way ticket to Miami Airport. My Amtrak train remained in the station for 12 minutes (probably because it was necessary to search for missing baggage). In the meantime, northbound Tri-Rail Train #P626 arrived at 7:06 p.m. on the eastbound platform. Unlike most of the other stations south of West Palm Beach, the historic Hollywood station is situated on the west side of the tracks, and only now, with the double-tracking of the line, is an east-side platform being built. Presently, there is a only very short platform at the extreme northern end of the station. Since access to that platform was blocked by the Amtrak train in the station (there is no overhead pedestrian crossing), an announcement was made that the northbound Tri-Rail train would wait for the Amtrak train to clear.
I briefly walked into the station, then sat down on a bench outside to await the arrival of my Tri-Rail Train #625, scheduled to arrive at 7:19 p.m. The train arrived three minutes late at 7:22 p.m. It was pulled by engine #805 and included coaches 1002 and 1005 and cab car 502. I sat down in an unoccupied group of four seats in the lower level of the first coach. Ordinarily, I would have taken a seat on the upper level, where many seat groups are accompanied with a table, but there was a luggage rack conveniently provided on the lower level, and I did not want to carry my luggage upstairs.
At 7:44 p.m., we came to a stop just north of the Metrorail Transfer station. An announcement was made that we had stopped to wait for a northbound Tri-Rail train to pass. Northbound Train #P628 - the last northbound train of the evening - passed by at 7:49 p.m., and we pulled into the Metrorail Transfer station two minutes later. We reached our last stop, Miami Airport, at 8:00 p.m.
I detrained and walked over to a waiting shuttle bus to the airport, which left at 8:03 p.m. The trip to the airport took only five minutes, and the pick-up area for my Dollar Rent-A-Car shuttle bus was only a very short distance away. My shuttle arrived at 8:14 p.m., and we arrived at the rental location ten minutes later. I rented my car and drove to the nearby Days Inn motel, where I had reserved a room for the night.
My trip to Florida on the Silver Star was relatively uneventful and very enjoyable. I pretty much expected the train to be late, and was not inconvenienced by our three-hour-late arrival to any great extent, as I was still able to catch a Tri-Rail train to the airport.