Alexandria, VA- Richmond, VA (Staples Mill Rd)
August 27, 2005
Train 195-Regional Service, Saturday edition
It has been a few years since I've been able to ride a train, other than my mind in the Trip Reports section! I finally had the chance today to travel from Alexandria, VA to Richmond, VA. I found a cheap ticket on the Amtrak web site and upgraded to Business Class for only $10 more.
The train was 20 minutes late departing, not bad for this stretch of track. CSX is planning on a "tie-replacing" project starting this Sun. night and lasting through November. After that, there will be many more projects lasting a few years, if our President hasn't succeeded in killing Amtrak by then, which would only tickle CSX pink. But first I had the pleasure of seeing an almost on time Silver Star depart. This beauty had a baggage, crew sleeper, three sleepers, diner, lounge and four coaches and no express cars, freight cars or circus train on the rear! Just a passenger train bound for the sunny south, no doubt terminating in Orlando,FL due to Hurricane Katrina.
My train, #195 came nearly right behind the Star. The consist was:
Engine (Genesis P40 I believe) Business Class (full car, I was here) Lounge/Cafe (full car, all booth seating) Coaches (several; esitmate 8; could have been deadheading)
There was no announcement for the business car, so of course I went to the wrong end where I was promptly yelled at by a conductor who said "go down to the front" as he closed his coach car quickly. Luckily the Lead Conductor saw me coming, by now running and I just barely made it on. I have had this problem in the past. Those cars are either in the rear or the front with no method to their madness.
The car was a well worn circa 1996-98 remodel with about 60 coach seats (or slightly more), non-leg rest. There were no amenities in this car other than a free soda in the full lounge car, a major surprise. Usually there are no tables, or in only half the car. The lounge was a recent remodel and very well done with booth seats. My business car had only six people in it, but from the trash all over the car and in the seats, it had been well patronized between Boston and DC Union.
I had purchased my ticket at the Quik-Trak machine before departing Richmond. I didn't want a nosy ticket agent calling the FBI when I purchased my ticket at 11AM in Richmond, and my train was due to depart Alexandra at 3:16PM! Obviously I had a ride to ALX, but with no luggage didn't want to arouse suspicion. Its a shame a railfan can't take a train just for the heck of it without casting suspicion, or even go to the airport and just watch the planes take off. Try doing that today. Nevertheless, the ticket and the web site warned me to sign my ticket before boarding, and absolutely have a picture ID ready for the conductor. I was only asked for my ticket. Oh well, all trains are now subject to random searches.
The train arrived in Richmond at the Staples Mill Rd. station 20 minutes late as well. But that was better than the four hours it took to get to Alexandria! I-95 in the summer is like Union Pacific on a good day. You'll get there, just allow plenty of extra time.
Since my absence from train travel, many things have improved and some things have stayed the same, but thankfully nothing was worse. The lounge attendant was very nice and helpful. The Lead Conductor was equally nice. Being in the front car, the engine horn was too loud but at least it drowned out the cell phone chatter. Geez people, can't you go two hours without telling the world your every detail, what you're having for dinner, whom you slept with and so on? Enjoy the ride, enjoy the quiet! How about a Quiet Car for business class!.
Next time I hope to ride a Acela Express train. There was one on display at our former Broad St. station which initially had its tracks tore out to make way for a Science Museum, but has since hosted the American Orient Express and Amtrak goodies from time to time. They also had the doomed rebuilt Rhor Turboliner trainset that never made it, from what I heard, to Empire Service. Judging from the spartan interior and few toilets, I can see why. I've heard some people express frustration, but believe me railfans you're not missing a thing. The Acela on the other hand is what a train should be. I better hurry up before they break again or catch fire or hit a pebble and derail. Happy training!