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Trip Report

OTOL Northern California RailFest 2007

July 13-24, 2007
Section 8 of 8


Photos by Alan Burden, Lynn Hammond,
Kevin Korell, Jishnu Mukerji, and Steve Weagant.

Click small photos to see larger

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Chapter 10.2: Amtrak CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR, Train #6, Sacramento, CA to Chicago, IL

Amtrak's CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR, Train #6(21) Emeryville to Chicago departed from Sacramento 10 minutes late at 9:19 AM with this consist:

202 P-42 locomotive 53 P-42 locomotive 1234 Baggage 39022 Superliner II Transition Dorm/Sleeper 34114 Superliner II Coach *** 34020 Superliner I Coach 34039 Superliner I Coach 33040 Superliner I Sightseer Lounge 38008 Superliner I Diner 32005 Superliner I Sleeper ** 32026 Superliner I Sleeper *

* Lynn, Mike, Grace, Alan, and Steve were here.
** Skip, Jishnu, Michael, and I were here.
*** Marilyn and HaRRy were here (SAC-RNO).

Just like on the outbound trip, this train's 31 sleeper had a serious malfunction. It wasn't the temperature, but rather the toilets. Our attendant let us know that the toilets would not flush, and he had closed off the bathrooms. Whereas the 31 and 32 sleepers on the previous train had to share some cool air, now everyone in both sleepers had to share one set of bathrooms.

Mike, Marilyn, HaRRy, & Kevin aboard Train #6 crossing the Sierrras. Our trip started out with commentary from a California Railroad Museum docent about the trip between Sacramento and Reno. We still found it interesting because we had missed some of it going west. We enjoyed a good portion of it from the Sightseer Lounge as we admired the Sierras once more.

UP’s tracks split and eventually cross one another at different grades in the western foothills of the Sierras. The Roseville stop came at 9:47 AM, which was 12 minutes late. We stopped at Colfax 10:35 AM, now down 14 minutes.

Our first encounter with this train's dining car staff was at lunchtime. Once again we encountered an understaffed crew. However our waiter, Alex, was very friendly. He gave you the impression he loved his job despite being overworked.

While the eleven of us had lunch together in the dining car, we stopped at the last station we would see in California, Truckee. We left that station about 12 minutes behind schedule at 12:50 PM. As we came out of the Sierras and crossed into the state of Nevada, we bade goodbye to Marilyn and HaRRy, as their Reno stop was getting close.

They did detrain in Reno, where HaRRy would remain overnight before flying back to San Diego. Meanwhile, a few of us got off the train for the short layover, which included a crew change. There was not much to see on account of us being in the new trench, other than the trench itself. We departed from Reno at 2:11 PM, right on time. Our group had now dwindled to nine.

We had made up some time from a shorter than normal dwell at Reno. Sparks came soon after at 2:21 PM, right on time. So far we were making excellent progress. At least for now, I had visions of us arriving into Chicago in two days with plenty of padding between this train and our next. However, would our early success last?

Spartan Amtrak station in Elko, NV. As the group had dinner, we made our station stop at Winnemucca on time at 5:18 PM. Then we were on our way across the Nevada desert once more. Thanks to the extra padding that had been added to the timetable earlier in the summer, we arrived in Elko about 10 minutes early. Since there was time to kill, the crew allowed an unscheduled smoking stop. A couple of us got off and stretched our legs there. Departure was right on schedule at 8:09 PM. This had been our last stop in Nevada, in the Pacific time zone, and of Saturday. Between Elko and Salt Lake City the train goes through a very long stretch with no station stops.

Having been a busy day, and with very little scenery and impending darkness, we all soon retired to our roomettes for the night.

Chapter 11: Sunday, July 22, 2007

Just like the previous Sunday, the entire day was spent in travel on one train. In fact, most of our day was spent moving across the state of Wyoming.

Chapter 11.0: Amtrak CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR, Train #6, Sacramento, CA to Chicago, IL (continued)

The Salt Lake City station stop came overnight for us. Since the train was scheduled to depart at 4:45 AM, and records show that it did so on time, we can assume that the train arrived at 4:15 and that the scheduled 30-minute layover took place as well. This time, unlike during our westbound trip, none of us hit the ground at this station; in fact we slept through it. When we awoke, we found ourselves already on the detour route, having crossed from Utah into Wyoming. Odds are therefore that most of us probably slept through not only Salt Lake but the entire state of Utah!

As we awoke and got ready, we went to breakfast. We found that a second waiter was put on the train at Salt Lake City. This was different than the westbound trip where the extra help came off in Denver. The new waiter took some of the load off Alex and appeared to be efficient, but he had nowhere near the personality.

Watching scenery go by in the Sightseer Lounge. The conductor announced that a crew change would take place in Green River, WY. However Union Pacific was unable to have us occupy a track that would allow for passengers to safely detrain. Therefore everyone had to remain on board during the 14-minute layover. Surely the smokers were unhappy that they would not be able to light up until Denver, but safe operations had to prevail! Considering that we left Green River at 9:38 AM, and we would not be in Denver until the evening, we were watching some peoples' endurance being tested.

Other than watching some of the smokers aboard the train chomping at the bit to blacken their lungs, there really wasn't much happening the rest of the way to Denver.

I recall we were eating lunch as we passed through Rawlins. It was around 3 PM when we turned off the UP Overland Route at Speer and headed south towards Denver.

Eastbound CZ passes Challenger-led UP special near Greeley, CO. Note railfans at trackside about to record its passing. After we crossed into Colorado, we did get a special treat, another one that we would not have gotten if we had taken the train's regular route through the Moffat Tunnel. Just before Greeley, we had a meet with a special UP passenger train that was pulled by UP's Challenger locomotive. Steve was lucky enough to have been in position to photograph the train as we passed. Its passage delayed us just a little bit, but we were already destined for an early arrival into Denver.

Chapter 11.1: In Denver

The first call for dinner happened long before we arrived into Denver. The process would continue during the layover.

The Rio Grande Ski Train awaits winter action behind Denver Union Station. The crew had estimated we would get into Denver around 7 PM. We actually came into town around 6:30, with Coors Field sitting to our left. After our backup move was complete, we came to a stop at Denver Union Station's platform at 6:45 PM. Once again because of the detour we were well ahead of schedule.

Seeing the people who hadn't smoked since Salt Lake City finally light up, you got to understand what addiction is all about. These people felt that they had been tortured by the inability to light up for so long. No doubt they spent the entire layover in Denver puffing away, to make up for lost time.

Denver RTD light rail at Union Station. Now, what do non-smokers do in the evening in Denver? With an 8:25 PM departure, we had one hour and 40 minutes. Unlike Salt Lake City, where the light rail was under construction, Denver has a working system with a station right at Union Station. I figured I would go for a spin. I had been chatting with Jishnu on the platform when I decided on a whim to purchase a ticket and board the Regional Transportation District (RTD) E Line. I figured I would ride a few stops to 10th & Osage, and then take another train back. With 15-minute headways, I didn't perceive any danger of possibly not getting back to the ZEPHYR on time.

During my brief light rail trip, I got to see the UP/BNSF Joint Line, the Elitch Gardens theme park, Invesco Field at Mile High, Pepsi Center, and some other downtown landmarks.

Once safely back at Union Station, I spent some time in the station, and also walked up 17th Street a block to shoot some photos of the station. I also made sure I used the station's toilet to save myself one walk to the 32 sleeper aboard the train.

Others in our group had also left the train to stretch their legs, but they all had remained within a block of the station.

Around 8 PM we reboarded the train in preparation for departure. We did leave right on time at 8:25 PM, and headed northeast towards Fort Morgan and Nebraska.

Not long after we departed from Denver, our Sunday was drawing to a close. Beds were made up for sleep mode, and we eventually all went to our respective roomettes for the night.

Chapter 12: Monday, July 23, 2007

The big story on Monday, at least for me, was nerves. We had what could be a tight connection to make in Chicago, and if we made that, we had potentially another one in Washington to worry about on Tuesday. Most of Monday was spent heading east through Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois towards Chicago. You'll have to keep on reading to find out if we made our connection there.

Chapter 12.0: Amtrak CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR, Train #6, Sacramento, CA to Chicago, IL (continued)

I first opened my eyes while we were stopped at the station in Lincoln, NE. It was light out, but in checking my timetable and watch I realized that I should not have been seeing Lincoln. We were due to leave there at 5:02 AM, and but we did so at 6:20. Skip later told me we had been in Lincoln for a few minutes, and he in fact stepped off the train.

Therefore, we were one hour 18 minutes late. Something had gone terribly wrong overnight on the BNSF since we had left Denver. This was not the freight railroad we had expected to negatively impact us. We should have already been approaching Omaha when we departed Lincoln.

Most of us went to breakfast. Service was pretty good, as we were served quickly.

We reached Omaha at 7:45 AM, for a 15-minute service stop. Along with some others from our group, I stepped off the train and walked around. The platform area looks to be old and decrepit. Pigeons were living in the framework of the canopy, making it dangerous to walk around there underneath them. During this stopover, somebody went into a compartment underneath the 31 sleeping car and tried to repair the toilets, but they were unsuccessful.

The eastbound ZEPHYR departed Omaha at 8:00 AM, almost 1-1/2 hours late. Things would only get worse.

After Omaha we crossed the state line into Iowa. We continued eastbound across the cornfields.

At Creston, we were due at 8:19 AM but didn't arrive until 10:17. We were therefore close to two hours late.

By now I had become a basket case. Were we going to make our connection in Chicago? If we remained two hours late, we still had a shot. But everyone knows that once a train is late it can get much later as it operates out of its window. The only thing that might save us would be a padded arrival time in Chicago. Never having stopped biting my finger nails since childhood, I almost had enough in my belly to forego lunch.

The Hammonds enjoy lunch on the eastbound CZ, as we passed through Iowa. However, never being one to miss a meal, I did go. We had our last meal aboard the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR when lunch was served around Osceola. By the next station, Ottumwa, it was 12:30 PM and we were now two hours six minutes late.

As I feared, we kept on getting later. Mt. Pleasant, where we were due at 11:09, was reached at 1:52, so our performance had deteriorated to two hours 43 minutes late. Burlington, the final Iowa station stop, came at 2:27, two hours 46 minutes down. We had now surpassed the window of two hours 45 minutes we had in Chicago by the timetable. We could only hope now for schedule padding to save us.

After Burlington we crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. Some of us tried to get some scenic photos, but BNSF put a freight in our way on the bridge's other track.

Next was Galesburg. We made a double spot here, further adding to our station time and our deficit. When we left there at 3:23, we were just six minutes shy of three hours late. At this time we should have been past Naperville in commuter territory approaching Chicago Union Station. Instead, we were still seeing an incredible amount of corn stalks.

Princeton came at 4:13 PM, which was just seven minutes before we should have been coming to a stop in Chicago. Naperville came at 5:30 PM; we were still not quite three hours behind but very close. From there it took only 32 minutes to get into Chicago, so one could definitely thank the padding for saving what looked to be a lost cause.

We finally came to a stop in Chicago Union Station, Track 26, at 6:02 PM, one hour 42 minutes late. Having said our goodbyes to Steve, the only one leaving the gang here in Chicago, the rest of us hustled through the crowd to get to the Metropolitan Lounge. We knew we had about one hour before our next scheduled departure.

Chapter 12.1: In Chicago, IL

The first people in our group got into the Metropolitan Lounge and were not only checked in, but in a practice expected only on the Auto Train, we were also given dinner reservations for the CAPITOL LIMITED. Nice touch! However, during the time we were on line, the first boarding call was made. So some waiting to check into the lounge instead just went and got on line by the exit door to board the CAPITOL LIMITED. Those who didn't make the check-in process would have to later find somebody aboard the train to make their dinner reservations.

All in all, our dwell in Chicago was very short. None of us actually got to sit down in the lounge before we were called to board our next train. We truly had to be thankful that we had made it!

Chapter 12.2: Amtrak CAPITOL LIMITED, Train #30, Chicago, IL to Washington, DC

The consist of Amtrak's CAPITOL LIMITED, Train #30(23) Chicago to Washington:

25 P-42 locomotive 56 P-42 locomotive 1733 Baggage 39015 Superliner II Transition Dorm/Sleeper 32055 Superliner I Sleeper ** 32044 Superliner I Sleeper * 38032 Superliner I Diner 33027 Superliner II Sightseer Lounge 34103 Superliner II Coach 34134 Superliner II Coach *** 34037 Superliner I Coach

* Michael and I were here.
** Grace, Alan, Jishnu, and Skip were here.
*** Lynn and Mike were here.

On this train, Michael and I were the only ones in the 3000 car. Grace, Alan, Jishnu, and Skip were in the 3001 car ahead of ours. Lynn and Mike went in coach since their night would not be complete as they would be detraining in the wee hours.

The six of us from the sleepers went right to dinner after boarding and meeting our respective attendants. We ate together mostly while still sitting in Union Station. We found this dining car crew to also be understaffed. The waiter in particular appeared to be young and relatively inexperienced compared to others we had encountered so far. However, this meal would be the best of the three we had on this train. Unfortunately, the menu was the same cycle as the one we'd encountered in both directions on the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR, so we had the same items to choose from.

The CAPITOL LIMITED left Chicago right on time at 7:05 PM. However, timekeeping deteriorated as we moved east. By South Bend, our first stop and the first one in the Eastern time zone, we were already eleven minutes late.

After dinner, we retired to the lounge car. There, we sat with Lynn and Mike. Lynn was tearful as she knew that she and Mike would be next to leave the group that had been together for a week and a half. We said our goodbyes to the Hammonds so that they could go get some sleep before their very early morning arrival in Cleveland.

Elkhart came at 10:05 PM, still eleven minutes down. So far, there was not too much to worry about in terms of making our connection in Washington the next day. We had our beds made up, and we retired for the night.

Chapter 13: Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Today would be another nail biter, as we made our way across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland headed for our nation's capitol and one more transfer.

Chapter 13.0: Amtrak CAPITOL LIMITED, Train #30, Chicago, IL to Washington, DC (continued)

Overnight, Lynn and Mike detrained in Cleveland. The train, at that point, was about 25 minutes late. They made their way home, napped, and prepared to face their Monday at home.

For the rest of us, somehow things fell apart in Pittsburgh. Although we arrived there at 5:55 AM, five minutes early, we sat there way too long. Our departure did not take place until 7:12 AM, 57 minutes late. We never found out why the dwell there was so long, but our train never recovered from it.

Most of us awoke during this extended layover. After the train began moving and we were running along the Monongahela River, we went to breakfast on a gradual basis. No longer having Lynn to hold the group together, we did not all go at the same time.

Skip had problems with the service at this meal. He was already seated in the diner with three strangers when the rest of us entered the car and sat elsewhere. The rest of us ordered, ate, finished, and left and poor Skip still had not yet received his meal. He later came to find out that the orders from that table had been dropped so they had to cook new meals from scratch. Skip did talk with the Lead Service Attendant about the experience, and the waiter later came back to talk to Skip in between meals to apologize.

Our stop at Connellsville, PA came at 8:51 AM, still 57 minutes off the advertised. We arrived at our crew change stop, Cumberland, MD, at 11:23 AM and departed 11:43 AM, making us now one hour 22 minutes late.

Shortly after leaving Cumberland, lunchtime came. The six remaining fest participants had our final dining car meal together.

We continued moving at a noticeably slow rate of speed all the way into Washington. It seemed like CSX had intentionally put us behind a slow-moving freight train. By the time we got to Martinsburg, WV, it was 1:53 PM. We were now over two hours late. At the present rate, our connection with Regional 178 was in jeopardy. We were hoping that our bad fortune would not continue, but it did. Only padding or the Regional being held up for our arrival could save us.

We stopped at Harper's Ferry at 2:36 PM, two hours 21 minutes down. We should have already been in Washington by now. However we continued to coast at a very slow rate of speed all the way. At Rockville, where we should have arrived at 1 PM, it was 3:41 PM. With a scheduled 4:05 PM departure, we were doomed. The most critical connection was Skip's, since he had to travel to New England, and 178 is the last one of the day. The rest of us going to Philadelphia, Newark, or New York could have taken a later train. Skip told his attendant, who was able to call ahead and have the Regional held for us.

Announcements were made on the CAPITOL apologizing for the delays and blaming them on CSX. Passengers were told of the connecting train being held for us. However, those with checked luggage would have to go inside the station to claim it, and most likely would have to take another train north. Alan commented that way back in Sacramento, Gilbert had actually done me a favor by denying me the privilege of checking my luggage.

Train 30 finally limped to a stop at Track 23 at Washington Union Station. Our official arrival time was 4:24 PM, two hours 9 minutes late (a little time was made up due to padding). That was also 19 minutes past the time that 178 should have left.

Chapter 13.1: In Washington, DC

The transfer could not have been easier. The Regional was right across the same platform on Track 24. Somebody from the station was actually on the platform to greet "Mr. Howard" and ensure that he made his connection to 178. Of course we all benefitted from that since we all were ticketed for the same train. Imagine the station personnel seeing six nervous "Mr. Howards" all looking to make their connections!

Michael and I headed for a coach and somehow found two seats together on a very crowded train. Grace, Alan, Skip, and Jishnu were in Business Class. I had overlooked booking Business Class on this train, since this was the direction I was paying for rather than redeeming Guest Rewards points.

Chapter 13.2: Amtrak REGIONAL, Train #178, Washington, DC to various East Coast points

The consist of Amtrak's REGIONAL, Train #178(24) Washington to Boston:

653 HHP-8 locomotive 81527 Amfleet I Regional Business Class * 43352 Amfleet I Full Dinette 44234 Amfleet I Coach ** 82024 Amfleet I Regional Coachclass 21022 Amfleet I Coach 82532 Amfleet I Regional Coachclass 82503 Amfleet I Regional Coachclass

* Alan and Grace (WAS-NYP), Skip (WAS-RTE), and Jishnu (WAS-NWK) were here.
** Michael and I (both WAS-PHL) were here.

One might have expected that since Train 178 had been held for the connection, it might have left as soon as the passengers had boarded. That did not happen. We sat at the station until 4:44 PM waiting for other traffic to pass so that the switch could be set to allow our departure. In the end, had I checked the baggage in Sacramento, I might have still made this train.

Starting out 39 minutes late from Washington, this train at least remained pretty consistent over its entire route.

We got to Philadelphia at 6:35 PM (40 minutes down), and Michael and I detrained. We had enough time to grab a quick dinner at 30th Street Station before our 7:14 PM NJ TRANSIT train to Cherry Hill.

Jishnu got off Regional 178 at Newark Penn Station at 7:40 PM, also 40 minutes late. Grace and Alan arrived at New York's Penn Station at 7:56 PM, still 40 minutes late.

Skip Howard really deserves his own chapter here, because he effectively stretched the fest into another day. He arrived at the Route 128 Station in Westwood, MA at 12:11 AM, 37 minutes late.

As Skip stepped off into the early Massachusetts morning, that ended our group's travels. By then, everyone else had arrived home.

Chapter 14: Conclusion

Once again with tremendous camaraderie we can say that this was one of our best events ever! It ranked up there with EagleFest 2005, but this one may have been better because we travelled more miles together and visited more places, thus allowing more people to join us at different points along the way.

Overall we enjoyed our transcontinental rail trips, as well as our time spent on transit within California. It was educational and enjoyable. We made new friends along the way, who we hope will now join us for future events.

What does the future hold? By the time this report sees the light of day, we will have been to Boston in November of 2007, and our annual New York meet in January of 2008. In the summer of 2008 our attention will be turned to Florida, as we ride Silver Service, and the local transit within the Tampa and Miami areas.

The next chance we will have of topping the NoCal Fest experience will be when we visit Southern California in the summer of 2009.

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