Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited South Bend IN - New York City
May 19-22, 2006
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This was going to be a trip I have wished for for many years, and this year I was going to go through with it: Take Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited from South Bend, Indiana to spend a weekend in New York City!
Friday, May 19, 2006
Train #48, the eastbound Lake Shore Limited out of Chicago, was scheduled to arrive in South Bend at 10:25 pm but due to freight congestion on the Norfolk Southern Chicago Line it didn't get there until around 10:50. As soon as I got on board I patiently awaited my coach seat assignment; A lesson I learned last year when I didn't wait long enough for a seat assignment, and my seat had been given away!
As soon as we departed South Bend I headed to the Lounge Car to set up my camera and video equipment. I knew since it was nighttime photo opportunities would be very few until morning, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. We were approaching Elkhart, IN but had to stop just short of the station to let a westbound Norfolk Southern train, Train 31T, pull into the Elkhart Yard ahead of us. As soon as the freight cleared Train 48 had to get clearance from the dispatcher to keep the westbound main track clear so passengers could get across to the platform. Normally Amtrak trains use the westbound main to load and unload passengers onto the platform, but this time the train had to use the road crossing as a platform to let passengers off. We then departed Elkhart about a half hour late, and sped through the night through Indiana into Ohio, and pulled into Toledo at 1:30 am. Here is a scheduled crew change for Amtrak, so enough time allowed passengers to step off for a few minutes if they wanted to.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Unfortunately we started to run into problems departing Toledo. The Toledo East Dispatcher was unable to clear the signals for us, and we needed clearance to pass every red signal we came upon. Thus, it took us 45 minutes just to go 10 miles until we got past the trouble spot, and go track speed again of 79 miles an hour. Because of the extra delay in Toledo we didn't get into Cleveland until 5 am, almost an hour late. As we pulled into the station I was able to shoot some video of the Cleveland Browns Stadium as we passed by it.
As this time I was feeling pretty tired from being up all night, and having worked the previous day, so I headed back to my seat to catch some shut-eye. I was surprised to see my seat-mate totally stretched out between the two seats, but I didn't have the heart to rouse him from his deep sleep. So I headed back to the Lounge and see if I could take a nap or two. Only I had never slept on a train before, which I found to be very difficult. So I stayed up and listened in on the train crew that came on in Toledo, while they regaled tales of Amtrak's Extra Board and "interesting encounters" with previous passengers.
As we departed Erie, PA the dining car was ready to open for breakfast, so I headed there to have my customary French Toast and orange juice meal. The meal itself was delicious, though I was disappointed to see the service using paper plates instead of their customary china.After breakfast I went back to the Lounge to shoot more pictures and video, as well as listen in on the scanner on the train's progress into New York State. The train was now operating on CSX tracks instead of Norfolk Southern, yet most of the trackside defect detectors still announced the road's former owner, Conrail; Even Conrail had ceased to exist ten years ago!
The Lounge Car's attendant was extremely helpful, however. When we approached Utica, NY he pointed out an old shop building on the south side of the tracks that was still lettered for the Erie Lackawana, and at Schenectady he showed me the old building that used to be run by American Locomotive Works.
As we approached the Albany/Rensselaer Station the conductor came through the Lounge Car and asked everyone to return to their seats until after we depart the station. The reason for this was the train had to change motive power for the last leg of the trip to New York City. Instead of using the usual P42 engines that Amtrak uses on most of its routes, a single P32AC-Dual Mode engine capable of using either diesel or third-rail electric power coupled onto our train. P32 engines are usually used between Albany and New York City, mostly because Amtrak has to use several miles of underground tracks on Metro North Commuter tracks rights to get to New York's Pennsylvania Station, and the P32AC engines use Metro North's third rail for power to keep diesel fumes out of the long tunnel.
We departed Albany at 2:15 pm, a little over an hour late for a fast run south along the picturesque Hudson River territory. Indeed, in several locations we were clocked at almost 90 miles an hour! The ride along the Husdon was an incredible sight, and I got many pictures of the Berkshire Mountains we passed along the way. As we passed the Croton-on-Hudson commuter stop I was surprised to see a couple of what appeared to be interurban trolleys, with the name "Lackawana" on the letter boards. Unfortunately we passed by them too quickly for me to get any pictures of them. The remainder of the trip was fairly uneventful as we pulled into New York's Penn Station at about 4:30 pm, about 45 minutes late.
I was amazed by the enormity of Penn Station, which appeared to be much larger than Chicago's Union Station. I was equally impressed by how many railroads use the station: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Railroad, and New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority subway system on the lowest level. Right away I went to a NJT ticket kiosk to buy a round trip ticket to Secaucus Junction, NJ to do some train watching and to get to my hotel. The trip was very fast and smooth, so fast in fact the conductor barely had enough time to collect my ticket before I detrained at Secaucus Junction!
The last hour of daylight was used to photograph the trains that passed through Secaucus Juntion, which mostly consisted of Amtrak through trains and New Jersey Transit commuters on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.
At long last I finally got to see an Amtrak Acela Express up close! While taking pictures I kept a wary eye out for NJT Police, since I had heard horror stories of railfan photographers being accosted, even though the short-lived railroad photography ban had long been lifted. When dusk finally approached I headed off the platform to the street to catch the bus to the hotel, when I suddenly realized: Yikes! The last one for the day had left 15 minutes ago! Sadly, I resorted to taking a cab to the hotel which was what I was trying to avoid; Especially since it turned out to be a $12 fare for a 2-mile ride.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The next morning I was lucky enough to catch a bus back to Secaucus Junction to catch the first inbound NJT commuter back to New York Penn Station. After a small breakfast there I headed downstairs to see about catching the MTA's E Train to Downtown Manhattan and back, then transfer to the 7 Train out to the Flushing Neighborhood in Queens. The subway cars were very clean, both inside and outside, however many windows are still permanently defaced from harder times of years past. The subway trains also start and stop very fast, hence the many poles to cling onto. Many riders found this out very quickly, after almost being thrown about a few times at the station stops!
At about 2:30 pm my New York sightseeing itinerary was pretty much complete, so I headed back to Penn Station to catch Train #49, the westbound Lake Shore Limited back to South Bend. Not surprisingly, this was the exact same train consist that brought me here the previous day. The train departed Penn Station right on time at 3:20 pm, and in no time we were speeding north along the Hudson River to Albany. At Poughkeepsie we left Metro North's tracks onto CSX territory, so I switched channels on my scanner to CSX's road frequency. The train's conductor, however, wasn't so observant as to where we were, since he was engrossed in conversation with the On Board Service Chief. It was about 20 minutes later when he realized he wasn't hearing any of the trackside detectors on his radio! Laughing, I pointed out to him that he was on the wrong channel. He then gave me a ribbing, asking me why I didn't remind him to pay attention to where we were!
We pulled into Albany/Rennselaer Station at 5:55 pm, right on time. It was at this point the lone diesel-electric locomotive uncoupled from our train, to be replaced by the usual P42 engines to take us the rest of the way west. We were scheduled to depart Albany at 6 pm. However, Train #449, the section from Boston, had not arrived yet, so we had to wait another 30 minutes for its arrival, so passengers and baggage could be transferred to our train. So much for an on-time performance for this train tonight. The rest of the evening I spent in the Lounge Car, reading and trying to get some much needed sleep. At 11 pm the Lounge Car attendant finally closed up for the night. However about 20 minutes later one passenger came by, only to become very indignant that there was no more service for the evening!
I would like to add a word about some observations I made during this trip about how people perceive Amtrak. Or rather, how some people insist on holding Amtrak to an unreasonable, impossibly high standard. On the eastbound part of my trip, I learned there were some people on board who came from the West Coast on Amtrak's California Zephyr to Chicago. Only the train encountered mechanical problems and didn't arrive into Chicago until 7 hours later, obviously causing these people to miss their eastern connections. Needless to say Amtrak took care of these people, giving them hotel rooms and service for this day's trip but these people were inconsolable. It turns out they were also booked aboard a cruise ship in Florida to the tune of $5000, and it was looking obvious they wouldn't make it to Florida in time to make the cruise. The passengers then became very upset when they learned that Amtrak would not reimburse them the $5000 for the cruise, since that was pretty much out of their hands. My thought on this is, why on earth would one make such a tightly scheduled trip with absolutely no room for problems and inconveniences that inevitably arise? It would seem more reasonable to add an extra day for such eventualities, and yet still make your connections.
Another observation I took in was how some passengers expect the on board service personnel to be on call 24/7 the entire time of the trip, with absolutely no time for themselves to eat and rest. They wanted the dining car to be open at all hours, along with the lounge attendant to be on duty non-stop from beginning to end. Come on, people! They're human beings, too. Their jobs are difficult enough as it is, practically putting in a full week's work in just a few days time. They have be allowed some time for themselves to eat and rest, otherwise they could never possibly make it the whole trip serving people.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Daylight finally came again about 5:30 am as we pulled into Toledo, OH. Hunger pangs suddenly hit me then, but it would be another 30 minutes before the Lounge would open for business. Even then, I only had enough money for a bagel and cream cheese, but it was enough to hold me over for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately we lost more time during the night due to freight congestion, so we were now running an hour behind schedule.
As we passed through Goshen, IN I spotted some demolished trailers and a twisted up trailer car on the south side of the tracks, when I remembered the freight train derailment that occurred here a few weeks ago. I guess Norfolk Southern wasn't in any real hurry to get the derailment mess cleaned up! When we departed Elkhart I packed up my equipment and headed back to my seat, just in time to be informed that South Bend was the next station stop. We pulled into South Bend at 9 am, an hour late as expected. Overall, it was a real good weekend, and even now am considering when I will be going back for another fun-filled weekend!