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We took a trip to Kansas City, Missouri for a few days in March during Julie's school vacation. We had originally wanted to take the Southwest Chief to Santa Fe, NM, but had planned to go from Galesburg, IL which Streets and Trips reports is 380 miles from our home! That's just too much driving for a "rail vacation", so we decided to take a shorter, daytime Amtrak trip from St. Louis to Kansas City where we would stay for a few days.
We have been to St. Louis a number of times since the MetroLink was expanded farther into Illinois. It is a great way to get around the area. We hate driving into St. Louis as three interstate highways converge on to one bridge over the Mississippi River. The last time we drove through St. Louis was 1997 and we don't plan to do it again unless we absolutely have to.
Monday March 21, 2005
We left our home in southwest Indiana about 6:45 AM to drive to Belleville, IL. It was a very nice day with pleasant temperatures and sunny skies. Unfortunately, it was the last we would see of the sun on this trip. We took I-64 as far as Mt. Vernon, IL and then exited on to IL 15. The Interstate Highway System is nice if you have to drive somewhere quickly but we have seen enough miles to last us about 1000 years. Route 15 is a pleasant drive through southwest Illinois and takes us right to Belleville. The MetroLink station is about 2 -3 miles north of 15 right near Southwestern Illinois College.
Route 15 passes through Ashley, IL, which we suppose is a great town for a person such as Dave who is not only a rail fan but a gear-head as well. Here US Highway 51 crosses the rail line the City of New Orleans uses. At least we think this is correct as we were asleep both times we passed through on the City in 2004. A person could listen to Highway 51 on the way in to Ashley and the City of New Orleans while leaving.
We really enjoy riding the MetroLink trains. They are clean, give a smooth ride, and are simple to use. There is only one line at present so there is no changing of trains. There is another line called the cross county extension that will intersect the current line at the Forrest Park station. When we first rode MetroLink, College Station was the eastern terminus but it has been extended to Scott Air Force Base to the northeast.
At 10:20 we arrived at the MetroLink College Station, Julie had prepared a lunch that we ate in the car to save time. The fare is $1.50 or $3.00 from Lambert Airport. We bought one day passes for $4.00 each. Tickets have to be validated in a machine but passes do not. The only other time the ticket or pass is required to be shown is if is checked by security on the train. We have ridden for days without once having to show our passes and other times have had to show them two or three times on one trip.
By 10:42 we were on the MetroLink train just out of College Station westbound. There is still a lot of agricultural land in this area but there has been a lot of buildings constructed in the past few years as you would expect with the rail line being here. Most of the line is above ground. The longest section below ground is from the Gateway Arch to Busch Stadium downtown. This makes the ride very interesting as there is a lot to see. Some of the scenery may be a bit messy but it is not boring.
We took the train to the Civic Center stop first as we wanted to pick up our Amtrak tickets just in case we were short on time the next day. Also, even though Dave had a general idea of how to get from the MetroLink stop to the Amtrak station, we had never done it. Well, finding the station turned out to be quite an experience. We left the Civic Center station on the west side and then tried to go south under I-64. We went one block and discovered construction fences around the base of the viaduct. There was also a tent around one pier with machinery making considerable (an understatement) noise. We turned west and Dave later asked Julie if she thought he was taking her into the depths of Hell. One block to the west and we discovered a street leading under the viaduct. Thankfully we saw a temporary sign pointing the way to Amtrak. Unfortunately the sidewalk ran out here and the street was paved with cobblestone, which is interesting but not the greatest place to walk, especially not tomorrow morning with luggage.
We finally made it to the new station which is very nice. We were not able to ascertain exactly where the old station was though we understand it has not been demolished. We got our tickets from a helpful agent and went outside to take some pictures and look around. We could have upgraded to business class for $14.00 each and probably should have. We found out on the return trip that each business class passenger got a food voucher for $4.50 which would have gotten the cost to less than $10.00. We have no complaints about couch travel but are sorry that we didn't take the opportunity try the higher class seating.
Then it was back to the Civic Center to catch the train on to the next stop which is Union Station. This is a very interesting structure and has a lot of interesting things to see both inside and outside. RailCruise America has had a number of locomotives and cars here every time we have been to Union Station.
We did not go to the Missouri Botanical Garden this trip but it a St. Louis attraction that we highly recommend. In fact, even a rail fan should visit there rather than Union Station if they only have time to see one attraction. It is absolutely beautiful, a showcase of God's creation!
From there we went on to Lambert Airport. We changed to the other MetroLink train that was already there and were soon inbound again.
We got off at Arch/Laclede's landing. This is a very interesting area that you can spend quite a bit of time exploring.
Back on the train we crossed the Mississippi River on the Eads Bridge which we understand was the first bridge build across the Mississippi River. The trains run on the lower level and the highway has been recently rebuilt and opened on the upper level.
We rode the train all the way to the new eastern terminus (we had never ridden this last section) at Scott Air Force Base. Beyond College Station, the MetroLink runs through an agricultural area on the way to the Shiloh-Scott stop. It takes 73 minutes to travel from Shiloh-Scott to Lambert.