Riding Amtrak's Pere Marguette
November 3-6, 2006
November 3, 2006 - Train 370
The opportunity to attend a recent slide show at Durand, Michigan afforded the opportunity to use Amtrak Trains 370/371 to and from Holland, Michigan. A close friend relocated to Holland and offered me the opportunity to car pool to the event and share expenses.
The Pere Marquette's are Michigan funded and make stops at New Buffalo, St. Joseph, Bangor and Grand Rapids. At the time I used the service, there was no meal service with the exception of a portion of one of the coaches set aside to serve sandwiches, snacks and beverages.
I called the 800 telephone number for Amtrak, made my reservations and paid for the tickets all with the voice activated agent, Julie. All I needed to do was to pick up my tickets, which I did at the ticket window in Union Station. There is a senior citizen discount applicable for persons 62 and over, and you get preferred seating out of Union Station with the senior discount. In other words you get to board ahead of those age 61 and under.
My departure date was Friday, November 3rd. I drove to the Fox Lake Metra Station. Parking is one dollar a day on weekdays, and is free Saturday and Sunday. I put two one dollar bills in the coin slot marking one for Friday and one for Monday at the suggestion of the depot agent. Arrival time at Union Station was more than sufficient to make my connection.
The four car train #370 was pretty well filled by the time we left Union Station: 5:20PM. The running speed on the NS (ex: NYC) out to Porter, IN is max allowable 79MPH. However due to freight train interference 79MPH was wishful thinking. Running speeds on the CSX portion of the train averaged less due to curves and restrictions through cities, therefore the running time is not an advantage compared to driving. Though the top permissible speed is 79MPH, less than 20 miles of the CSX route from Porter to Grand Rapids have that allowance.
On the run to Holland, the train was about 20 minutes late out of Bangor with a meet with a freight carded for Fennville, MI. The freight encountered a broken rail which had us stop for about 40 minutes to let the freight clear at a walking speed. Then it was our turn. The arrival at Holland was about an hour late. Holland is the primary stop on the route. Most of the passengers aboard at Union Station got off at this point. The locations to the south get better service opportunities using the South Shore Line at South Bend or Michigan City.
November 6, 2006 - Train 371
The return trip was on Monday the 6th of November. Again, there were a lot of passengers at the Holland Depot to get aboard. The train was 6 minutes late into Holland. We were down perhaps fifteen minutes into Michigan City when the train was stopped because a contractor's back hoe was stuck in a position too close to the tracks. That resulted in a 20 minute further delay. Running time on the NS from Porter to Englewood was nothing close to the 79MPH authorized limit so more time was lost. Any hope of making a close connection with the Metra 10:30AM to Fox Lake went down the toilet.
Despite the relatively slow schedule, the run was satisfactory, and I will likely use the service again. On December 14th I received a questionnaire from Amtrak asking me to rate the service. I gave it high marks, because all the delays were not the responsibility of Amtrak. The crews were friendly, cars clean and the crews kept us informed as to the reason for the delays.
My friend reported that as of Thanksgiving, Superliner Coaches (one with lower lever cafe car options) have been the standard consist.