Since it looks like the earliest we'll leave is 8pm, I figure it best to stroll up to the food court and pick up some dinner. Having heard quite a bit about Gold Coast Dogs, it seems only natural to try one. I opt for a Polish dressed up with fries and punch. Pretty darn good, though I'm not too sure I'll get one of those cravings for one when I'm 1000 miles away thankfully. Most of "dinner" is spent in the waiting room, watching the room gradually empty as train after train is called for boarding. From the Lincoln Service and IZ to the CL and eventually the CNO, every train gets called (some albeit late) except for ours and one other; the LSL, which tonight, has been cancelled for reasons unspecified.
Periodically, we receive updates about our train, which did finally arrive at 6:30pm, and is now in the yard for servicing due to frozen equipment. I mutter in my own mind wondering why the cancelled LSL's consist couldn't have filled in for ours, but concede that the diner vs. lounge difference may be the reason. Secretly, I hope that our equipment is bad ordered, and somehow they muster up a few Superliners to take us to DC. Unfortunately, neither scenario comes to pass, as the anticipated release of our train is pushed back to 9:00, then 9:30, then 10:00pm, etc. After a while, we begin to dismiss the subsequent reports, and merely concede that we'll get our train when we get it. To ease some of the tension, Amtrak offers us coffee or juice from the Met lounge.
Finally, a bit past 11pm, the priority passengers get the nod to board the Cardinal, and near 11:30pm, we finally get our pass to head to track 15 to climb aboard. Heading to Baltimore, we'll be in the front coach, but have to wait for one family with enough luggage to fill a moving van to get their stuff aboard. Finally, we're on, and finally find a pair of seats again near the front trucks!
11:35pm and we're off and rolling at last. By now, several of the passengers have already gotten to know each other, and those with the energy spend the last moments of February 18th playing laptops and portable DVD players. I'm ready for sleep however, and waste little time getting there, even if the Amfleet II seat is less than comfy. I awaken a few times when my legs start to lose feeling, and finally rise largely for good as we glide into Indy. It's already starting to show daylight as we pass the RCA dome, and finally come in to drop off the passengers who waited nearly 6 hours to ride just about as long. I drift a bit again for a while, but awaken to us waiting on a siding for a passing freight. Eventually, we get moving and make it to Connersville, IN.
There's a little less chatting this morning than there was on the Capitol, but I take this time to do some visual eavesdropping to see where the riders on our car are heading. Unlike my last Cardinal ride which saw little through ridership from East Coast cities to Chicago, this train offers quite a number of riders who boarded in Chicago heading to the Mid-Atlantic. WAS, WIL, PHL, and especially NYP are all seen, though ours seem to be the only BAL checks aboard. My guess is that 48's annullment has fed 50 some rather unorthodox ridership, a guess that would later be validated.
At times, I also guesstimate what time we'll actually arrive in Baltimore, just so I can figure if I'll need to get a cab home, or if I can take the bus. Still, there is much distance to go, so I resign to simply getting there when I get there, and figuring out the rest later.
Side benefit to the delay is that I'll be wide awake for the station stop in Cincinnati, finally giving me a good look at the grand station in daylight. At 10:40, we finally make our arrival into the 'nati, and I manage to pop off a couple of shots from the window.
Did I mention there's no coffee?!? When I noticed no one returning from the Cafe Car with it, I assumed frozen pipes. I assumed right. Now I assume I'll think twice before booking an overnight in an Amfleet train in cold weather!
After leaving Cincy, we head into Kentucky. So far, despite the late start, delays, and lack of java, the ride has not been too bad. The little girl bound for Philly behind me has made sudden best friends with two girls heading to Hinton, and they spend most of the day heading back and forth the cafe car and just being young at heart.
The ride through Kentucky is the only problem free state we encounter until we alight in Baltimore. As we glide through Vanceburg, we are clued to wave to the station agent at the Vanceburg station as we pass, and we do. Finally with reasonable ease, we roll out of Kentucky and finally into West Virginia at about 2:15pm. At this stage, coffee is finally available (complimentary no less), and we are again given the snack packs and water to help with the delays.
At 2:30, we come into Huntingdon, a smoking stop, and I take the time to stretch my legs and get a couple photos. To my surprise, there's a "visitor" on the rear of our train in the form of a Horizon coach. I don't know where it was added, as I'm certain that the train had just two A-II's on it when we left Chicago. As it turns out, the second A-II for "short" passengers lost heat, so perhaps it was added near Indy.
As we prepare to leave Huntingdon, I pop in another DVD after watching of all things, Airplane, when the power craps out to the car. Our "quick" smoking stop in Huntingdon to change crew turns into over an hour of delay as they try to resolve the problem. Eventually, we get things patched up, and make our way out of town and on towards Charleston. By this point, our train is now OVER 8 HOURS late, and I'm beginning to worry if my desired trek through the New River Gorge in daylight is not to be.
Fortunately, we make decent time into Montgomery, and soon after are heading into the wilds of the New River Gorge. I spend most of my time in awe at the depth of the place, and the rest in frustration that none of the photos I take even come close to portraying this depth. Shortly after we cross sides, I scurry back to an empty seat pair to catch whatever views I can of the gorge before the light finally dims. We pass Alderson without stopping, but let off a few people in Prince.
Despite the delays, the train is still cordial and seemingly carefree. All that ends as we pull into Hinton and find that our power has again crapped out. After making our stop quickly, the crew scurries down to a wider section to work on the train for a bit. However, they tell us VERY little. Unlike the other crew which was pleasant and informative, this crew tends more toward surly and reserved. Despite my own fears of having the coach get ice cold, it actually gets stuffy! Of course, people start to get antsy, and with little information from the crew, they begin making phone calls to Amtrak to find out what they can, and complaining in the process. Despite having young kids in the coach, some dipwad decides their addiction to nicotene is the most important thing to them, and lights one up. For a spell, things get tense, while one group decides to air their thoughts in a letter seeking signatures wishing reimbursement and funds for "emotional distress." About 2 dozen people leave their names and emails. I do, if only to see how their luck goes. Haven't heard anything yet.
During this time, the information coming to us varies wildly, from a report that mechanics are coming and we'll be getting moving shortly, to one that they're sending buses, to another that buses will accomodate us in Charlottesville. The uncertainty and misinformation are troubling, as is the way in which the Lounge car was locked shortly before our power failure. One wonders if the sleeper passengers are as much in the dark as we (literally) are.
Finally, we get our power back to the car and begin rolling again. From here on out, the presence of the Conductors in our coach is fast and fleeting. At Thurmond, we pick up a family that has been here for over 9 hours waiting on this train to get to Trenton. And I thought WE had it bad. We seem to do no exchanges at White Suplhur Springs, as our stop is very quick, and before long, we're FINALLY leaving West Virginia.
Staunton comes rather quickly, and we pick up about a half dozen worn souls there. By this point, I'm wearing down, so I resign to trying to get a second night's sleep aboard this train. Sadly, I picked the worst time to do so, as we are now entering what has to be the WORST stretch of track I've ever ridden on, something akin to riding a really lousy stretch of the Chicago or Philly El for HOURS!!! The train rocks and shimmies and lurches to where its like riding on a rocky road. I state to a young lady I've befriended bound for DC that a woman sure could not wear a tube top riding on this stretch of track!
I fight for some sleep and come to a few times when my neck becomes too painful. One of these times, I realize we're coming into Charlottesville, so I hope the agony will end soon as we return to NS track. Charlottesville is not as busy as I expect, but considering it's now past midnight, I gather there were many cancellations to our 2:47pm train!
After leaving Charlottesville, I drop out again, only to reawaken thinking we're approaching Manassas, only to discover we're actually hitting Alexandria. Strangely, the young lady originally bound for DC who was now supposed to get picked up at Alexandria has already vanished. By now, most who are left are collapsed into their seats trying to make a night's rest. By now, I simply opt to rest my eyes for most of our approach into DC.
At DC, the seats opposite ours open up, and I cross over to just relax as we change our motive power. Interestingly, the first Monday train has already left DC on the NEC. By now, I'm content to just sit here for a bit and rest, but soon enough we're rolling out, and I spend most of the last half hour to Baltimore trying to make heads and tails of where we are. The ride up the corridor is very fast, almost too fast. We actually gained some of our time back with the DC padding, and now finally we hit the B&P tunnels into Baltimore, and then finally in sight is good old Pennsylvania Station. Home again!
It's 4:12am, and we were due here at 7:38pm. Very interestingly, the Horizon Coach is STILL on our tail, making this the first time I've ever seen one on a train on the NEC! I guess that's my small bonus on this ride.
And Amtrak saved me some more money as well. Instead of just being dismally late, we're EXTREMELY late. So late that I can catch the first #3 of the morning to get me halfway home. Just saved cab fare, though the walk from the bus is a bit more than one thirsts for at 4:45 in the morning! Finally, I'm home at 5:30am, and I take 4 hours to finally treat myself to some horizontal sleep once again.
Lessons learned?!? I think I'm through with the Cardinal for now. The rough track and the slightly narrower A-II seat were not fun to try to sleep through for two nights. Even at it's worst, the Capitol wouldn't have taken two nights - I hope! And at least on there, the pipes work better, and you get something closer to a real dining experience. Besides, I've pretty much seen what I wanted to see on it, such as a good view of Cincy's station, and a trip through the New River Gorge at one interesting time of year!