It's 10:50 a.m. on Wednesday, January 26, 2005, and I've just arrived at the Miami Amtrak station, where I will be boarding Train #92, the Silver Star, on my way to New York. I drove in this morning from Islamorada, where I attended a Scout meeting at the National High Adventure Sea Base, and reached the Dollar Rent-A-Car drop-off location near the Miami airport at about 10:05 a.m. After turning in my rental car, I boarded a shuttle van for the airport. My plan was to transfer at the airport to a shuttle bus that would transport me to the nearby Tri-Rail Miami Airport station, where I would catch the 11:13 a.m. northbound Tri-Rail train to Metrorail Transfer. I would then walk (or possibly take a bus) from there to the Amtrak station.
When we arrived at the airport, I went inside Terminal E, which I knew was where the Tri-Rail bus departed from, and located the platform on the lower level used by the Tri-Rail bus, as well as other local buses that stop at the airport. No sooner had I reached the platform than I noticed a northbound #42 bus to Golden Glades pull in. I recalled that this bus stops at the Amtrak station, and the driver confirmed that it does. I quickly decided that, rather than wait for the Tri-Rail bus, transfer to the train, and then walk some distance to the station, it would be much simpler and faster just to take this direct bus. So I boarded the bus. We left on time at 10:28 a.m. and arrived on time at the Amtrak station at 10:50 a.m. The bus stops right in front of the station and is definitely the simplest and most convenient way to get there from the airport. I was a little sorry to forego the opportunity of riding Tri-Rail once more, but - as will soon be seen - I was quite glad that I arrived at the station when I did.
Walking into the station, I immediately noticed that the departures board indicated that while our train, the Silver Star, was still scheduled to depart on time, Train #98, the Silver Meteor, scheduled to leave at 10:35 a.m., had not yet departed. I soon observed that, at the north end of the station, a Metropolitan Lounge has been installed. I don't recall ever using this first-class lounge before but, as a sleeping car passenger, I was entitled to enjoy its amenities, and I decided to try it out. It is a rather small facility, but it includes a food service area, with complimentary soda, juice and pastries available (the soda and juice were kept cold in a refrigerator), and two cubicles with dataport connections. It turned out that one of the dataport connections did not work, but the other one (which was also equipped with a phone) did, and I was able to plug in my computer, read my AOL mail, and sent out a few messages. Both from the All-Aboard List, and from the news broadcasts on a TV in the lounge, I learned of this morning's tragic Metrolink derailment near Los Angeles, which resulted in at least nine fatalities and several hundred injuries. Apparently, the incident - which involved two Metrolink trains and a Union Pacific freight train - was caused when a southbound Metrolink train hit a Jeep Cherokee parked on the tracks, derailed, and then sideswiped both a Union Pacific freight train on an adjacent track and a northbound Metrolink commuter train.
Being able to sign onto AOL from the Metropolitan Lounge was an unexpected bonus, and it made me very glad that I had decided to take the #42 bus, rather than waiting for the Tri-Rail train, which would have gotten me there nearly an hour later. And I was particularly glad that I had chosen to board the train at Miami, rather than Hollywood, where I could have made a direct connection with Tri-Rail.
Not having had much for breakfast, I took out some food that I had obtained yesterday in Marathon Key and had a nice "brunch." I also started talking to several people I met in the lounge who would be boarding my train. One man was traveling to Chicago via Washington and occupied a roomette, and two brothers - William and Felipe - were returning home to Orlando, also in a roomette. They explained that they come down to Miami regularly to visit their family, and usually drive. This time, though, they got a ride down but decided to take the train back. This would be their first time on a train, and they decided to "splurge" for a roomette. Actually, the additional cost of the sleeper for the Miami-Orlando trip was only $49, and they were each entitled to two complimentary meals - with a total value not much less than the cost of the sleeper!
About 12:30 p.m., an announcement was made that the Silver Meteor was in the station and would soon be ready for boarding. Ten minutes later, passengers for Train #98 were told to assemble at Door B, with their tickets and photo ID ready for inspection, and boarding soon began. The Silver Meteor finally departed at 1:05 p.m., two and one-half hours late.
In the meantime, about 1:00 p.m., the Redcap informed passengers in the Metropolitan Lounge that we should move over to Door A to await the boarding of our train. (Coach passengers were instructed to board at Door B, at the northern end of the station.) So I put away the computer and walked over there. When the boarding of our train was announced at 1:14 p.m., I walked down the platform towards my sleeper, which was at the front of the train, recording the consist on the way. As I reached the diner, a woman driving a golf cart stopped and apologized for not picking me up previously. Apparently, it is now the policy at the Miami station to transport all sleeping car passengers from the station to their accommodations via golf cart, and she requested me to board the cart for the rest of the way. I had only two more car-lengths to go and could easily have carried my luggage that short distance, but I decided to accept the ride in the golf cart - more for its novelty, than for any other reason.
Arriving at my sleeper Palm View (rather appropriately named for this trip!) a few seconds later, I climbed aboard and walked over to my assigned Room #2. As soon as I sat down, I felt something sharp hitting my leg. It turned out that a piece of plastic stripping inside the seat cushion had broken, and the sharp edge was sticking up against the upholstery. When the attendant came by, I pointed out the problem and asked her if I could change my room. She confirmed that our sleeper would not be full tonight, but stated that she had to talk to the conductor before she could change my room. In the meantime, I tried to step off the train to record the numbers of the engines and baggage car, but was informed that there was no time to do so, as we would soon be ready to depart. Not until we reached Tampa did I have the opportunity to detrain and record the entire consist.
Today's Silver Star is pulled by Genesis engines #64 and #43 and includes a baggage car, a crew dorm, two Viewliner sleepers (Palm View and Tranquil View), a Heritage diner (built in 1948 for the New York Central Railroad), lounge car #28022 (named South Bend Club and rebuilt with a smoking section which is no longer used for that purpose), and three Amfleet II coaches, the first of which has been reconditioned with blue seats and electric outlets at each seat. We departed the Miami station at 1:27 p.m. - one hour and seven minutes late - and moved north through the Amtrak yard at a rather slow speed.
In the meantime, the conductor came by, and the attendant confirmed that I could move to Room #7. I had specifically asked her for a room on the right side of the train, as the left-side (even-numbered) rooms have the bed made-up "backwards" (i.e., with one's head at the front of the room and one's feet in the rear). I prefer to sleep facing forward, so the odd-numbered rooms on the right side of the train are preferable. I now moved all of my belongings to my new room (the attendant offered to assist me with the move, but I told her that that would not be necessary).
We came to a stop when we reached the connection with the main CSX/Tri-Rail line at 1:37 p.m. Northbound Tri-Rail Train #P618, for which we were waiting, came by at 1:42 p.m., and we started moving four minutes later.
We reached our first stop, Hollywood, at 2:09 p.m. As was the case with all of our stops up to West Palm Beach, the stop was quite brief. Here, a woman and her young daughter, bound for Columbia, S.C., boarded the rear sleeper. When we departed two minutes later, we were one hour and 25 minutes late. Soon afterwards, the dining car steward, Alvin, came by to inform me that lunch was now being served in the diner. I was not all that hungry yet, and decided to wait a little before eating lunch.
North of Hollywood, I noticed that grading was in progress for the installation of a second track. At our next stop, Fort Lauderdale, a new northbound station for Tri-Rail was under construction. Then, at 2:51 p.m., just north of our following stop, Deerfield Beach, we passed southbound Tri-Rail Train #P615 - the first of four southbound Tri-Rail trains that we would be passing on our way north. This train was scheduled to leave Deerfield Beach at 2:42 p.m., so it is running about ten minutes late. A short distance north of Delray Beach, where our train stops at the new Tri-Rail station, the abandoned historic Seaboard Air Line station is visible on the right side of the tracks. The historic Boynton Beach station, the next station north of Delray Beach, which appears to be in quite good condition, has also been replaced by a new Tri-Rail station (Amtrak does not stop at Boynton Beach, though). Then, at 3:17 p.m., south of Lake Worth, we passed southbound Tri-Rail Train #P617.
By the time I got around to eating lunch, the dining car was empty, so I took along the February 2005 issue of TRAINS magazine to read with my meal. I started reading the article about the impending demise of the Three Rivers (a train I last rode to Chicago in June 2004, when I shared a roomette with Gary Kazin), and noticed that Genesis engine #64, which pulled the last "full-service" Three Rivers in October, was the engine pulling our train today! And the bottom of the last page of this article featured a picture of Genesis engine #84, painted to promote "The Powerful Toyota Tundra," which powered the southbound Silver Star that I took to Miami last week. Headed with the caption "Is it a truck, or is it a locomotive," the blurb that accompanied the picture concluded with the comment: "We know the passenger railroad needs cash, but isn't this the competition?" I had certainly picked an appropriate article to read over my lunch!
About 3:26 p.m., our train came to a stop. For about 20 minutes, we just sat where we were, without moving. Finally, at 3:48 p.m., southbound Tri-Rail Train #P619, scheduled to depart West Palm Beach at 3:33 p.m., passed us. We started moving ahead two minutes later, now passing through a work area where a second track was in the process of being constructed. We had lost about 25 minutes due to our meet with the Tri-Rail train on what is still a single-track railroad. I was now finished with lunch and returned to my room.
We arrived at West Palm Beach at 3:58 p.m. No one boarded the sleepers here, although a number of passengers did get on the coaches. Many people were waiting on the platform to board southbound Tri-Rail Train #P621, scheduled to depart at 4:03 p.m. Of course, that train could not pull into the station (which currently has only a single platform, although a new southbound platform is under construction) until we departed. All passengers having already boarded the train, we pulled forward at 4:01 p.m., but almost immediately stopped. When we finally left the station at 4:05 p.m., we were just about two hours late. Three minutes later, we passed the southbound Tri-Rail train, which now would itself be a few minutes late.
I now walked back through the coaches, finding 20 passengers in the front coach and 38 in the second coach. The third coach was closed off; it remained so for the entire trip. There were a few seat checks with destinations of Washington and north, but the vast majority of coach passengers were bound for points in Florida - primarily Lakeland and Tampa. The indirect routing of the Silver Star from Miami to Jacksonville via Tampa adds over two hours to the schedule, but it also creates a new intrastate route for which there appears to be strong demand. I also found that, at this point, a total of only five rooms in the two sleepers were occupied (including the handicapped room in my car, which was occupied by a woman going all the way to Newark).
Now that we were north of West Palm Beach, we no longer had to contend with Tri-Rail trains and associated construction delays. The schedule calls for us to reach our next station stop, Okeechobee, in just under an hour and, on our southbound trip, we did indeed cover the distance in this time frame. But we would not be so lucky today. This time, the culprit was not Tri-Rail, but Amtrak itself. At 4:26 p.m., we switched onto the siding at United, about 20 miles north of West Palm Beach. We proceeded along the siding at a restricted speed of about ten miles an hour, but you could feel the train rock back and forth as we did so. At 4:34 p.m., we came to a stop and waited until 4:47 p.m., when the southbound Silver Star, Train #91, passed us on the main track. That train was scheduled to arrive in West Palm Beach at 2:18 p.m., so it was running about three hours late. Two minutes later, we started moving ahead, but we had lost another 25 minutes waiting for a passenger train to pass us on single track.
After a while, I decided to move back to the lounge car for a change of pace. William and Felipe were there, playing cards with two coach passengers. Soon, we made a brief stop at Okeechobee at 5:24 p.m. Four passengers boarded here, and one detrained. When we departed a minute later, we were two hours and 23 minutes late. Just north of the station, we stopped for a few minutes to permit the southbound Silver Meteor, Train #97, to pass us. That train (which does not stop at Okeechobee) was scheduled to arrive at West Palm Beach at 3:22 p.m., so it was also running about three hours late. We didn't have to wait for this train to arrive, so the meet had cost only a few minutes.
About 5:50 p.m., we began to see a beautiful sunset to the west. I now returned to my room, on the way noticing that one of the brothers going to Orlando had lowered the upper bunk in their room and was taking a nap. They are certainly getting the full value from their accommodations! I took a picture of the sunset, and continued working on these memoirs.
We reached our next stop, Sebring, at 6:06 p.m. Here, six people boarded our train. When we departed two minutes later, we were precisely two and one-half hours late. Soon afterward, at the Hartt siding, we passed a southbound CSX freight train, but the freight train took the siding, and we passed it without stopping, although at a somewhat restricted speed.
Walking through the dining car on the way back to my room, I observed that only two people (the woman and her daughter bound for Columbia, S.C.) were eating dinner. When I again walked through the car half an hour later, William and Felipe and the woman in the handicapped room in my car were eating dinner - but no one else! I found it hard to believe that not a single coach passenger had chosen to eat dinner in the diner tonight! Since I had a very late lunch, I had made a reservation for the 8:00 p.m. sitting, and would be waiting until then to eat.
At 7:00 p.m., we made a very brief stop at Winter Haven. No one boarded or detrained here, so we were soon on our way, passing through the McDonald Connection at 7:09 p.m. and now heading toward Tampa. We stopped at Lakeland at 7:21 p.m. to permit passengers to detrain, and proceeded west toward Tampa.
As we did on our southbound trip, our train turned on a wye a few miles east of Tampa and backed into the station. So, at 7:53 p.m., we turned right and pulled into the wye, coming to a stop at 7:55 p.m., with our backup move beginning at 7:58 p.m. At 8:08 p.m., we made a safety stop just before the station, and we came to our final stop at the Tampa station at 8:10 p.m. This would be my first chance to step off the train since we departed Miami. I detrained from my sleeper and walked to the front of train, then walked back along the platform and reboarded at the second coach. Given the limited time available, I did not go into the station itself. Tonight, our stop at Tampa lasted for only six minutes, and when we departed at 8:16 p.m., we were two hours and 54 minutes late. (This figure is somewhat misleading, though, as the times set forth in the timetable appear to assume that the time-consuming back-up move is made subsequent, rather than prior, to our Tampa stop.)
I now went to the dining car for dinner. There were only about ten other people there - almost all of whom were sleeping car passengers (several of whom had just boarded the train in Tampa) - and I was told to sit wherever I wanted. Since I knew that I would have a table for myself, I took with me the same February issue of TRAINS magazine. This time, I read the feature article on the recent meltdown of the Union Pacific Railroad, and was fascinated and somewhat surprised by the very blunt and frank journalism it embodied.
My beef meal was delicious. For some reason, though, the dinner meal - like all other meals on this train - was served on paper, rather than china (although metal silverware and linen napkins were supplied). During dinner, we stopped at Lakeland to receive about ten passengers, and when we departed Lakeland at 8:51 p.m., we were two hours and 39 minutes late.
About 9:00 p.m., I returned to my room. After our brief stop at Kissimmee at 9:32 p.m., I walked back to the coaches, where I found that there were now 31 passengers in the first coach, but only 12 in the second coach. I then spent some time in the lounge car talking to William and Felipe, who would be detraining at Orlando. They very much enjoyed their trip and hoped to take the train again.
In the meantime, at 9:45 p.m., we again came to a stop. In response to my question, the conductor told me that we were waiting for a freight train to pass. We ended up waiting for half an hour until, at 10:15 p.m., a southbound freight train passed us to the left and we were able to continue north. Finally, at 10:26 p.m., we arrived at the Orlando station. I detrained, said goodbye to William and Felipe, and walked back to the coaches, where I reboarded. Relatively few people boarded the train here (presumably, passengers going to points also served by the Silver Meteor ended up taking that train instead.) Despite its being a designated smoking stop, our stop here lasted for only five minutes, and when we departed at 10:31 p.m., we were two hours and 54 minutes late. Interestingly, we were now late by exactly the same amount as we were when we departed Tampa, but this figure is now a real one!
Several passengers boarded my sleeper at our next stop, Winter Park, where we arrived at 10:45 p.m. and departed three minutes later. I remained in my room, updating these memoirs and revising the minutes of the meeting that I had gone down to Florida to attend. About midnight, although I was not all that tired, I decided to go to sleep, so I pulled down the upper berth and climbed in.
I'm sure I got some sleep during the night, but I was awake for all of our station stops - Palatka, Jacksonville, Savannah and Denmark, S.C. We arrived at Jacksonville at 1:41 a.m. and backed onto a car that was added to our train. (In the morning, I noticed that it was an express car.) When we departed at 2:06 a.m., we were two hours and 46 minutes late. We did not encounter any long delays during the night and actually made up a little time.
By the time we arrived at Columbia, South Carolina at 6:55 a.m., I was fully awake. We made a five-minute stop here, and when we departed at 7:00 a.m., we were two hours and 40 minutes late. I remained in bed for about another 20 minutes, watching the scenery go by, then got up and went to take a shower. The shower had been used to store a trash box, but the attendant removed it so I could take my shower. There was an ample supply of hot water, and the shower was delightful. After getting dressed, I walked back to the end of the train. I found that 43 passengers were assigned to the first coach, with only 12 passengers in the second coach. Looking at the seat checks, I noticed that passengers with different destinations had been assigned to sit next to each other in the first coach, while the second coach remained largely empty (and, of course, the rear coach was closed off completely). Had I been a coach passenger, I would not have appreciated this arrangement!
At 7:38 a.m., we made a brief stop at Camden, S.C., where one passenger boarded. We were now passing through the pine forests typical of the Carolinas. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise, but it soon became cloudy and rather dreary out.
About 8:15 a.m., I went to the dining car for breakfast. I was promptly served my usual Continental breakfast. Since - as I had anticipated - the diner was far from full, and I had a table to myself, I again brought along the February issue of TRAINS magazine to read. For this meal, I chose to read an article entitled "Royal Train," by the magazine's former editor, Mark Hemphill, which described the luxury excursion rail passenger service operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The contrast with the article on the Union Pacific Railroad that I read over dinner last night could not have been sharper! In place of the blunt, damning criticism found in the UP article, which exposed the incompetence of and even scheming manipulation practiced by the officials of that railroad - as well as an outright lie by a retired UP official - the article on the CP contained nothing but glowing praise for CP's luxury train (and, indeed, for the railroad as a whole) without interjecting even the slightest negative comment. Had the Canadian Pacific Railway itself engaged the finest public relations firm to write a piece promoting the special experience that its luxury train provides, it could not have done a better job! My breakfast, served on paper utensils, did not quite match up with the gourmet meals offered on the CP luxury train, but it was nevertheless pleasant and enjoyable.
At 9:00 a.m., as I finished breakfast, we pulled into Hamlet, N.C. This brought back memories of my northbound trip last year on an eight-hour-late Silver Star whose crew members' on-duty time had expired, resulting in our waiting in Hamlet for two hours while a new crew was called. Last year, I had plenty of time to gaze at the historic Hamlet station, which was then in the process of restoration. The restoration has now been completed, and the station beautifully restored. Although Hamlet is a crew-change location, our stop lasted for only three minutes, so I did not have the opportunity to step off the train and explore the station more closely. I was able, though, to snap a picture of the restored station building. When we departed Hamlet at 9:03 a.m., we were two hours and 36 minutes late.
I now returned to my room and updated these memoirs. We made a brief stop at the picturesque community of Southern Pines at 9:41 a.m., but no one got on or off here, so we quickly moved on. Then, at 10:12 a.m., we passed through Sanford, N.C. Once the site of a major railway junction, Sanford still features intersecting rail lines in the center of town and several historic stations. In front of one of the station buildings, now restored as a community center, an historic Atlantic & Western steam locomotive is displayed.
I watched as the former Southern Railway line to Greensboro - now the route of Amtrak's Carolinian - joined our route at Fetner, about eight miles west of Raleigh. (Parenthetically, I should note that the 65-mile-long line from Fetner west to Greensboro is one of about ten Amtrak short-distance routes that I have not yet ridden.) Then, at 10:59 a.m., we arrived at Raleigh. I detrained and - for the first time - had the opportunity to walk into and around the station building. I discovered, much to my surprise, that the Raleigh station is actually an historic building - the old Southern Railway station. Due to the insensitive modernization of the station building, which involved the construction of a very modern-looking glass-and-brick wall on the side of the building facing the tracks, I had always assumed that this was an entirely new structure. But when I took a look at the front of the building, it became evident that it is actually an historic station, with the front facade retaining its classic appearance. The inside has been rather awkwardly designed, with exposed brick columns providing some sort of historic look, but with the remainder of the design embodying essentially a modern appearance. I suspect that the renovation of this station took place over 25 years ago, as it is unlikely that such a insensitive job would be done today.
Our stop in Raleigh lasted for seven minutes, and when we departed at 11:06 a.m., we were only two hours and six minutes late, having made up another 25 minutes since our last stop in Southern Pines. Rather than losing additional time at each stop, as my northbound Silver Star did last year, we were actually making up time! But that was about to change.
After picking up a complimentary USA Today newspaper that had been delivered to my room during our station stop in Raleigh, I walked down to the lounge car for a change of pace. The newspaper contained an update on the tragic Metrolink derailment in California, noting that the death toll now stood at 11 and reporting that the Jeep Cherokee had intentionally been parked on the tracks by a man who intended to commit suicide, but had second thoughts, walked away and was unharmed by the crash, and now expressed "remorse" for what he had done. The article also confirmed what I had suspected all along - the southbound Metrolink train that initially derailed was operating in the "push" mode, with the cab car of the train hitting the Jeep Cherokee. The article made it clear that if the Jeep had instead been hit by the train's engine, the train probably not have derailed, and passenger injuries would have been either non-existent or very minor.
We had a slow order which resulted in our proceeding through Clayton at a reduced rate of speed. The Norfolk Southern tracks that we follow through town run along an embankment, with the parallel street undulating up and down along with the natural terrain. Then about 11:45 a.m., we reached Selma, where we curve to the left and switch onto CSX (ex-Atlantic Coast Line) tracks. At 12:11 p.m., we passed through Wilson, which features a beautifully restored brick station. Our train does not stop here, but two other Amtrak trains - the Carolinian and the Palmetto - do make this station stop, and the station is staffed by an agent.
At 12:25 p.m., we stopped at Rocky Mount. About half a dozen people boarded the train here, and one person got off. Last year, I had plenty of time to explore the beautifully restored station here, but today our stop lasted for only four minutes, and I did not have the opportunity to step off the train. When we departed at 12:29 p.m., we were two hours and 18 minutes late.
Soon, I brought my computer back to my room and went into the dining car for lunch. Continuing the tradition of solitary dining established on this train, I once more brought along the February TRAINS magazine, this time reading the article about Caltrain's recent improvement of service from San Francisco to San Jose. It wasn't as dramatic as the articles about Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific, but was interesting nonetheless.
While in the diner, we stopped for 12 minutes in Enfield, North Carolina. At the time, I had no idea why we stopped there (I did not bring my scanner along with me to the diner). Later on, though, I discovered what the reason for this stop must have been. While in an elevator at Newark Penn Station along with a coach passenger who had just gotten off our train, I was told of the "excitement" that occurred south of Richmond, Virginia. Apparently, a woman in one of the coaches started cursing loudly, and the police were called to remove her from the train "in the middle of nowhere." Although I cannot be certain that Enfield was the place where this incident occurred, no freight train passed us here, and I couldn't figure out any other reason why we would have made the stop. I did notice a number of police cars parked next to the historic brick station, and this would tend to indicate that this was the location where the woman was removed from the train.
I watched as we crossed a high bridge over the Roanoke River in Weldon and soon afterwards entered the State of Virginia (with the state line being marked by a sign on the adjacent highway). I also noticed the restored station in Emporia, a short distance north of the state line.
After a leisurely 45-minute meal in the diner, I returned to my room. At 2:05 p.m., we stopped at Carson, milepost 38, for about five minutes to permit a Loran rail-grinding train to pass us. Soon after we started moving again, we had to slow down to pass through a work area near the Collier Yard (milepost 27).
Just after we crossed the Appomattox River at 2:32 p.m., we passed southbound Amtrak Train #89, the Palmetto, which was running about two hours late. Then, at 2:34 p.m., we pulled into the Petersburg station - a rather unattractive brick building, constructed by the Atlantic Coast Line in a residential area on the outskirts of town to replace its downtown station on a line that was eventually abandoned. Our stop here lasted for just one minute, but when we departed at 2:35 p.m., we were three hours and two minutes late. We had lost about another hour since our station stop at Raleigh. As soon as we pulled out of the Petersburg station, we passed southbound Train #79, the Carolinian, which was running about one hour late.
I walked to the back of the train, where I now counted about 45 passengers in the first coach and 20 in the second coach. Just as I returned to my room, we crossed the picturesque James River, with east-west rail lines on both the north and south banks. And at 3:09 p.m., we arrived at Amtrak's Staples Mill Road station in Richmond.
I detrained and walked back to the rear of the train, where I noticed that ExpressTrak car #74062 had been added to our train in Jacksonville. Richmond is a service stop on the train, at which all cars are watered. In addition, the toilets in our sleeper had not been functioning for the last few hours, and a mechanic succeeded in fixing them. Along the other station track, I noticed several small piles of snow and ice that must have fallen off trains coming from the north. This is the first snow and ice that I've seen since we headed down to Florida last week!
Soon after the "all-aboard" call was made for our train about 3:16 p.m., Train #80, the northbound Carolinian, pulled in on the track adjacent to the station. That train was scheduled to arrive in Richmond at 2:43 p.m., and was just over half an hour late. Train #80 had been closely following our train all the way from Raleigh, where it was scheduled to depart at 11:18 a.m. - only 12 minutes after our delayed train actually left - and it had finally caught up with us. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time that I've seen two trains in the Richmond station simultaneously. We finally left the station at 3:22 p.m., now running two hours and 52 minutes late. Soon, we passed through the quaint town of Ashland, with the tracks running right down the middle of the main street.
North of Ashland, we proceeded along Track 1 (the western track), passing two northbound freight trains on Track 2 (the eastern track). A short while later, we passed a southbound RoadRailer train, heading south on Track 2. Then, at 3:56 p.m., we passed the southbound Silver Star, Train #91, which was running about half an hour late. Patches of snow and ice were now visible in the woods adjoining the tracks.
Looking at the pages from the Rail Ventures book, I noticed that one of the features described along the route is a 20-foot-high stone pyramid on the east side of the tracks, which commemorates a Civil War battle. At 4:12 p.m., I observed this interesting feature, which is at milepost 55.7 of the railroad. A few minutes later, we passed through Fredericksburg and crossed the Rappahannock River, which was partially clogged with ice. Then, at 4:18 p.m., we passed southbound Train #95, scheduled to arrive in Fredericksburg at 3:40 p.m., and thus running about 40 minutes late. Ten minutes later we passed the southbound Auto Train, scheduled to leave Lorton, Virginia at 4:00 p.m. And at 4:37 p.m., we passed a southbound Virginia Railway Express train at the Quantico station.
Once again, I walked back to the rear of the train, where I found 45 people in the first coach and 23 in the second coach - my highest coach passenger count since we left Miami! I should also mention that, at this point, only four rooms were occupied in the rear sleeper, and only one room (the handicapped bedroom) besides my own was occupied in my sleeper. A few other rooms were occupied earlier, but less than half of the rooms in both sleepers were occupied at any point in the trip.
I stopped to talk to the man who had boarded the train with me in Miami and was bound for Chicago. He is supposed to connect with the westbound Train #29, the Capitol Limited, which departs Washington at 5:20 p.m. It looks like we should be arriving in Washington a few minutes after that. He was informed that Amtrak would hold Train #29 for up to ten minutes to wait for connecting passengers, so it looks like he may make the connection after all. He told me that, if the connection is missed, Amtrak offered to "bustitute" him to Pittsburgh to connect with the Capitol Limited there, but he refused the offer, stating that he chose to travel on Amtrak because he enjoys riding a train, rather than a bus, and would prefer to stay over in Washington - even at his own expense - and travel all the way to Chicago tomorrow by train instead!
We arrived at Alexandria at 5:04 p.m. and departed two minutes later. As we pulled out of the station, a southbound VRE train was pulling in, with the platform crowded with commuters waiting to board. We then crossed the Potomac River and pulled into Track 25 at Washington Union Station at 5:20 p.m.
Since Train #29 was going to be held for a few minutes, the passengers destined for Chicago would make the connection. These passengers were informed that the Capitol Limited was boarding on Track 16, an upper-level track, and I volunteered to show my friend the fastest way to get there (you can turn right before entering the station concourse and go right out to Track 16). When we arrived at Track 16 at 5:25 p.m., the train was still there. They had made the connection!
Now that I was already upstairs at the station level, I took a quick walk into the Great Hall, which once again was open to the public (it had been closed for an Inauguration Ball when I was there last week). I then went back downstairs and reboarded my train. After a 34-minute stop, during which we changed to an electric engine, we departed at 5:54 p.m. and headed north.
A few minutes before we left the station, Alvin, the dining car steward, came to my room to inform me that dinner was now being served. So once we departed Washington, I went into the diner and was promptly served my meal. Of course, I again had a table to myself, and I brought along the January 2005 issue of TRAINS magazine, which contained an interesting article about intermodal freight service in Europe. This meal, however, did actually feature some interaction with other passengers. Seated opposite me was a couple who had boarded the train in Tampa and were headed to New York in a sleeper, and we talked for much of the meal about our train travel experiences. The only other passengers in the dining car were a couple who were traveling to New York in coach.
During dinner, we stopped in Baltimore for nine minutes. I was surprised at the length of this stop, as we stop only to discharge passengers, and there were very few passengers remaining on the train. Subsequently, the assistant conductor informed me that the delay was caused by the fact that we had to change conductors in Baltimore, since the hours of service of the conductor who boarded in Washington had already expired. He further informed me that we would have to change conductors once again in Philadelphia! Why Amtrak would assign such conductors to this train was somewhat puzzling, but I assume that Amtrak wanted to get the most out of these conductors, and figured that the slight additional delay to our lightly-patronized long-distance train wouldn't matter very much to most passengers. When we departed Baltimore at 6:38 p.m., we were two hours and 42 minutes late. It seems unlikely that we will make up any more time, and we therefore should arrive in Newark about 9:20 p.m.
I walked through the two open coaches, now counting a total of 35 coach passengers, then returned to my room. I now repacked my luggage and moved everything to the room opposite mine. Then I did some work on my computer.
We proceeded at a normal pace from Baltimore to Wilmington, but we slowed down quite a bit on our way to Philadelphia - presumably, to let some higher-priority Amtrak trains pass us. It took us 37 minutes to get from Wilmington to Philadelphia, while we covered the same distance last week on the southbound Silver Star in only 22 minutes. Then, when we got to Philadelphia, we ended up sitting on the platform for nine minutes. Knowing that we would be getting a new conductor here, I realized that I would have enough time to walk down to the front of the train and record the number of the electric engine that had been added in Washington. It turned out to be AEM-7 engine #904 - the very same engine that powered our southbound Silver Star last week from New York to Washington! When we finally departed Philadelphia at 8:17 p.m., we were three hours and four minutes late, having lost an additional 22 minutes since we departed Baltimore.
I now attempted to walk back to the coaches once more, but discovered that the lounge car was closed and the door leading back to the coaches had been shut. So I returned to my room and called my friend Chris, who had indicated that he might be able to pick me up at the Kingsland station and give me a ride home. Chris confirmed that he would be able to give me a ride, and I told him that I should be able to make the Main Line train that leaves Secaucus at 10:05 p.m. and arrives at Kingsland at 10:11 p.m. After 9:00 p.m., when free calling starts on my cell phone, I made a few more phone calls - including one to a fellow railfan who lives very close to the Metropark station, which we passed while I was on the phone with him.
I also spoke to the one other passenger remaining in my car - the woman who occupied the handicapped bedroom. She told me that she lived in Bloomfield and would be detraining in Newark. Although normally the rear door to my car was used for boarding and detraining passengers, the attendant told me that she would open the front door - adjacent to the handicapped room - in Newark. So she moved my luggage to the vestibule in the front of our car.
While waiting for us to pull into the Newark station, I started talking to the attendant. She confirmed that only four rooms in our car were occupied by passengers at any point. I mentioned to her that I had noticed her making up the lower berths in a few rooms last night, and she explained that we had a number of "no shows." She assumed that these passengers were destined for stations also served by the Silver Meteor, and when they found that the late Silver Meteor was actually operating close to the schedule of our train, they ended up boarding that train instead. She also indicated that patronage of the Silver Star has decreased substantially since the October schedule change, since the Silver Star now runs on a schedule very close to that of the Silver Meteor, yet takes several hours longer to reach its destination. She thought that Amtrak might be rearranging the schedules of these trains in the spring to avoid this problem.
We arrived on Track 2 at Newark Penn Station at 9:26 p.m. A Redcap with a wheelchair was waiting to assist the woman in the handicapped room. I detrained, gave my attendant a $5.00 tip, and walked over to the departures board, where I noticed that the next train to Secaucus, scheduled to leave at 9:30 p.m., would be departing from Track 1. So I took the elevator downstairs to the main level and then the escalator back up to Track 1. I purchased a ticket from a machine on the platform and awaited my train, which arrived four minutes late at 9:34 p.m. It was a Northeast Corridor train, made up of Arrow MU cars. I took this train to Secaucus Junction, where I received a call from Chris as I detrained at 9:42 p.m. I confirmed that I was already in Secaucus and therefore would have no problem making my 10:05 p.m. train.
After spending a little time in the more pleasant main concourse of the Secaucus station, I went downstairs and boarded my Main Line train, which arrived on time at 10:05 p.m. It consisted of new Metro-North Comet V equipment (two coaches and a cab car), since it goes all the way to Port Jervis. We arrived in Kingsland six minutes later, and Chris was waiting to pick me up. We arrived at my home in Teaneck about 10:30 p.m.
My trip home on the Silver Star was quite enjoyable, despite the fact that we were late for the entire way. I was a little surprised, though, as to how empty the sleepers were, and I think that Amtrak has to seriously reconsider rescheduling its Florida service so that the two trains on this route do not run on nearly identical schedules.