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Trip Report

Winter Migration
Coast to Coast on Amtrak

January 2 - Febrary 26, 2008


Part 1: Washington DC - Chicago

On January 2, I left Greenbelt, MD for Oceanside, CA. As I was walking down the steps at Washington Union Station to board train #51, the Cardinal, I noticed it was being pulled by P42, #13. "Oh, oh," I said to myself, "this could mean trouble." Not that I am superstitious about the number "13", but for some reason this time I thought it might foretell something.

And indeed it did. The trip was proceeding pleasantly and smoothly enough when we entered Charlottesville, VA. We were going slowly, around 10-15 mph, when the train came to a sudden stop. At its slow speed, this caused no discomfort to the passengers. I didn't notice anyone falling, loosing balance or otherwise being discombobulated by the sudden stop. At first I thought we were closer to the station than we were, and that the stop was related to our expected station stop. However, within a couple minutes, or so it seemed, we saw a fire truck and other emergency vehicles outside our coach. The coach I was in was sitting right in the middle of the street where we soon learned the train had hit a car. If anything aggravated the passengers it was that those getting off in Charlottesville now had to wait on the train until things were straightened out. Fortunately, there were no injuries, and within 45 minutes the car had been removed from in front of the engine, and we finally made our station stop, now about 1 hour late.

One reason we got going so soon again was that there was an Amtrak engine mechanic aboard the train. He was on his way to meet eastbound #50, which was having engine trouble as well as weather related problems that had it running at least 6 hours late. So, he got off the train, inspected the locomotive, and gave his okay to continue on.

We continued on in pleasant weather until sunset at which time we were at Clifton Forge. West of there it started to snow. Apparently the snow was heavy enough so that by the time we reached Cincinnati, OH, we were over 2 hours late.

We continued behind schedule into Indianapolis, IN. We made up some time there as we departed from there at 8:30 AM, a mere 2 hours behind schedule. We would lose another two hours before reaching Chicago Union Station due to slow running north of LaFayette and being significantly behind schedule when we reached the Chicago area.

Once a passenger train is no longer in its time slot it's likely to get delayed even more as other train schedules may be based on a particular train's being on time. Fortunately, the way the Cardinal gets into Chicago is not too clogged with interlocking plants. From CSX's former Monon RR line the train heads west on CN's GTW mainline for a short ways and then heads north on UP's former C&EI mainline through the yard at Dolton (where I saw the MOPAC heritage SD70ACe leading a southbound TOFC train). After crossing the IHB just north of Dolton Yard, there are only a couple more interlocking plants to cross before reaching the NSC TOFC yard at 47th St. One of these is what used to be 74th St. tower at Hamilton Park. Now automated I don't know what the Control Point is called. It's a large wye with 3 tracks on the south leg, and two tracks on the north leg. The main stem is also 2 tracks as much traffic swings off to the west via the south leg of the wye. Most RR's that once frequented Chicago could be seen or photoed at this spot, if the RR cops didn't interfere. Even in the 1960's when I would go there, finding a RR cop there was not unusual. Sometimes I'd be told to scram. Other times, I was left alone. At 47th St. passenger trains using the old C&EI tracks joined the procession of RR's using the Chicago & Western Indiana RR tracks to reach the various stations in downtown Chicago.

Getting into Union Station 4 hours late meant that I had only 90 minutes to wait before the SW Chief was due to depart. That gave me just enough time to get lunch. By the time I returned to the Amtrak lounge, the boarding of #3 had already begun.

The ride through Indiana was quite nice due to snow being both on the ground and on the trees. It was so cold that despite being sunny there was no melting occurring. We were often going slow enough that I got a better view of the surroundings. Don't know if this was a problem with signals or just adverse effects of cold and snowy weather. I noticed:

  • The train passes the Tippecanoe Battlefield north of LaFayette. I hadn't noticed this before, perhaps because I hadn't been looking west before.

  • There are still some sets of semaphore blades left starting with one at Crawfordsville and going north from there for some miles. As you get closer to LaFayette the semaphores disappear. Going slower made it easier to note the type of signal being passed.

  • There are industrial locomotives in the town of Linden, north of LaFayette.

  • IN highway #49 follows the track for many miles going south from Reynolds, IN, where the CSX line crosses the TP&W.

Things might be easier and more readily seen if this train were still equipped with Superliner cars. That it isn't makes viewing more difficult. The only place one could get any sort of decent view is from the cafe car. For there was one other significant difference between #51 this year and the #51 I rode last year at about the same time. Last year's train had the sleeper behind the locomotive. This time, the sleeper and two POV's were on the rear end [the POV's came off in Cincinnati]. So, looking out the rear of the train like I did last year was not an option. Crew members told me that sleeping car passengers had complained about trying to sleep with all the engine noise.

Why take the longer, slower train between DC and Chicago? For me the reasons are:

  • You get more daylight travel time on the westbound Cardinal than you do on the westbound Capital Ltd.

  • There is 2 hours less of scheduled layover time in Chicago. If the temperature is below 35 degrees, which it was, I tend to stay inside due to having asthma induced by cold weather. With 5 1/2 hours scheduled between trains, I still have a guaranteed connection. That I had only a 90 minute wait, and less considering time spent to board #3, meant that for me this trip was about ideal.

  • Most importantly to me the ticket price for a coach seat on the Cardinal was significantly less than for a similar space on the Capital Ltd. thanks to the way Amtrak now prices its services. Ticket prices vary day by day and even by the time of day if more than one train departs for the same destination [DC - Florida service is a good example of this].

As I was walking towards Union Station from the train, I stopped to examine the front of engine #13. I could see no evidence that it had an altercation with an automobile.

Part 2: The Ride to Oceanside

As usual, the boarding of train #3, the Southwest Chief, at Chicago was a case of organized pandemonium. Why Amtrak waits until 30 minutes to departure time to board this train is beyond my comprehension. If the train is already sitting in the station with all work finished which would require that the HEP be off, why not allow boarding as soon as possible to allow passengers with kids, disabilities, or other problems to board without feeling rushed? Besides, so close to the holidays this train was packed; every seat was taken. I got assigned a window seat, but the window separator blocked most of my forward view. Reclining the seat helped some. I wasn't really that concerned because I knew I'd spend most of my time in the observation/lounge car.

Each trip is different, and this one was no exception. I've been used to being one of the few, if not the only one, in the observation/lounge car during the daylight trip through northern Illinois. Not this time. The car wasn't packed, but most every seat was taken, and some of the tables as well. Perhaps it was because even though this part of Illinois is almost pancake flat, the snow on the ground and setting sun gave the ride a luster it usually lacks. The sunset over the farmlands was spectacular.

For a railfan the trip from Chicago Union Station to Aurora is especially neat. You're riding at speed on a three track mainline with METRA commuter trains and freights on either side of you until you switch over to the northern most track to make the Naperville station stop. Not long after that you pass by the big commuter station at IL highway #59, then under the EJ&E at Eola, and then through the middle of BNSF's Eola Yard (yard tracks on both sides of the mainline) before reaching the junction where the METRA commuter trains now break off for the final couple miles run into downtown Aurora. You pass the old CB&Q depot on your left and then swing away from BNSF's Twin Cities mainline.

At this time of the year it's dark by the time you reach Galesburg. This makes seeing your going from the old CB&Q/BN mainline to Omaha onto the old ATSF mainline to Kansas City quite difficult. It occurs west of Galesburg at a spot the BN/CB&Q called "Graham" which is where the Omaha freight line into and out of the west end of BN/CB&Q's Willis Yard junctions with the old passenger line that by-passes the yard. About a mile north of this spot is the xATSF mainline. It was here that BNSF put in an "X" shaped set of connection tracks to link the two mainlines together. Prior to this the only ATSF/CB&Q-BN interchange had been via some rickety industrial tracks on the west side of downtown Galesburg. Rickety though that interchange may have been it was well enough constructed so that in 1969 I photoed ATSF's rerouted combined SF Chief/Grand Canyon leave CB&Q's station and use this connection to regain its own tracks. At that time I never thought that "ATSF" passenger trains would ever use the "BN" station under the auspices of Amtrak.

Now it's time to occupy oneself as best one can as there are very few villages of any size and only 2 stops between Galesburg and Kansas City. The two highlights of this night trip are crossing the Mississippi River into Fort Madison, IA (this was on the night of the Iowa Caucuses - wonder how close we were to one?) and crossing the Missouri River at Sibley, MO on the high bridge. You know you're crossing that river when you see a well lit power plant on your right. You might even notice a UP coal train in the plant as UP has trackage rights on the BNSF all the way to Kansas City. Otherwise, it's virtually pitch black out. Even when the coach lights are turned down, there's still not much to see. It's hard to notice that for a ways through Missouri east of Sibley you are either parallel to or sharing trackage with the NSC's former N&W/Wabash RR line to KC.

The entrance into the waiting area in KC's station is now about a block from the train after going up a flight of stairs. I ran into the station to get yet another bottle of diet cola to avoid having to purchase a 12 ounce can for $1.75 in the lounge car. I had started my trip with six 20 ounce bottles of diet cola. By the time I reached Chicago I was down to 3 so I purchased one there. Now it was time for another. Generally, the price for a 20/24 ounce bottle of soda is no more than the cost of a 12 ounce can bought on the train. At most stations, including KC, the cost per bottle has been typically $1.25.

Likewise with snacks. I brought apples and breakfast bars with me on this trip so I had no need to supplement them with other snacks, but had I wanted to I could find vending machines with snacks for roughly $1 less per item than similar ones found in the lounge car. Most experienced Amtrak coach car travelers bring food and drinks with them onto the train. While Amtrak once frowned upon this, over time its policy has changed to accept this reality. Now, you will sometimes hear announced over the intercom that you can bring your own food and beverages to the observation part of the car. Just don't take them down into the lounge itself. Apparently some passengers have asked lounge attendants to heat up their own food items.

After leaving KC station you soon find yourself going by the large BNSF yard at Argentine. The train stops here for refueling. Then, after leaving the yard area it's once again into the dark night. Time for some sleep.

"Sunrise" was around Lamar, CO. The day started cloudy, but would soon be sunny. We were on time. Soon we passed Las Animas Jct., I think it is, where the xATSF line from Amarillo, TX joins in for the trip into La Junta. This stretch of trackage sees the most train activity until you return to the xATSF main at Dalias, NM, thanks to its being the route of loaded coal and other southbound freights between Pueblo, CO and Amarillo, TX. Empty coal trains and northbound freights use the xBN (C&S/FW&D) between those points.

Once out of La Junta it's likely now that the only train to be seen until reaching the Albuquerque, NM area is Amtrak #4, the eastbound SW Chief. You might see a BNSF freight going over you on the former BN line near Trinidad. With BNSF's sale of the line over Raton Pass into Albuquerque to the state of New Mexico, there is no through freight traffic left on this route. Most sidings from La Junta west had stored spine cars in them.

For now there appears to be little work at replacing remaining semaphore signals except for a couple that have disappeared in the New Mexico Rail Runner commuter train territory. Even so, there are still some left in this stretch. West of Lamy, any remaining semaphores are single signals as the block signals protecting east and westbound trains are set up some distance apart. At least two semaphore signals are readily accessible from a parallel road in the commuter train territory. Given that there are a fair number of very photogenic Rail Runner commuter trains operating now, catching a train by these particular semaphores is fairly easy. Otherwise, you have only the two Amtrak trains to photo passing by one or more blades.

Another signal type disappearing is the former ATSF cantilever search light signals. There are still some of these left on the east side of Raton Pass, so I headed to the rear coach to photo these "relics" as we ascended towards New Mexico. Once again this train was configured so that the coaches were at the end of the train.

We arrived early into Albuquerque so there was time to photo two Rail Runner trains as well as to find out that the burrito seller was sold out of burritos. Had to settle for tamales for my supper that night. As we left Albuquerque the clouds picked up, and as the sun set, we were heading into a rainstorm.

Once we passed Dalias I watched signal sets for awhile from the rear coach, but train traffic was way down from that seen on my trip last year. I eventually got tired of this. After Flagstaff I called it a night.

I wasn't sure where we were when I awoke. At first I thought we were east of Barstow, but soon it was apparent that I15 was close by, and that we were already descending into San Bernardino. I didn't notice any construction going on as it was still dark. Also, it was raining. This quashed any idea I had about getting off at Fullerton to await the next Surfliner to Oceanside. It used to be that Amtrak would ticket passengers going to points on the Surf Line (line to San Diego) via a train change at Fullerton. No more. You can still do this if you desire, but your tickets route you into LA station and then back out. Going to LA turned out to be the good choice. I got off #3 and found my connecting train on the adjacent track. In a flash I was aboard.

The nice thing about riding both ways between Fullerton and LA is that you can look at what's going on first from one side of the train and then the other. You pass BNSF's TOFC/COFC facility at Hobart as well as another one and the BNSF diesel house and terminal tracks on the north side of the train. There are some junctions with UP lines that are crossed at grade, and also on your right hand side heading into LA is the LA River (usually a misnomer, but this time there was some water in it) with UP's line from Long Beach on the other "shore". You go up over the junction with the lines to Long Beach before coming down along the "river." This, along with the Amtrak facility, is seen on the left hand side of the train heading into LA. One thing I noticed was UP has a lot of gensets in this area.

As it was now a Saturday the Surfliner I was on made many of the Metrolink stops in addition to its regular stops. Apparently the engineer forgot about the Laguna Niguel stop. The stop was announced aboard the train, and right by the station went the train. Well, it soon stopped, and then a crew member went to the rear car and guided the engineer as he backed his train into the station. The rest of the trip into Oceanside was uneventful.

I didn't expect my wife to pick me up in our rental car until that afternoon. I had deliberately gone down there early to check on the "Sprinter", the new DMU commuter train service running between Oceanside and Escondido on a former ATSF branch. The service had been expected to begin some time in the fall of 2007. The Sprinter has its own tracks and station platforms at Oceanside so its trains won't interfere with either Amtrak's or the Metrolink and Coaster commuter trains. If need arises the Sprinter trains can get onto the main tracks as the Escondido line still sees freight service, now done at night. Upon reaching its platforms I noted the electric sign stated "Sprinter Coming Soon." So, I spent the next four hours reading and watching Amtrak Surfliners and commuter trains pull into and out of the station. No freights ran. However, one Sprinter "test train" came into the station and then departed shortly before my wife arrived. Alas, it was still cloudy and misty at times.

All in all it was a nice ride. There was only one small problem that took some time to get fixed. Upon leaving Chicago I noticed there were no paper towels in the Men's dressing room in my coach. I mentioned this to the lady Amtrak on-board person and later to the coach attendant. Both had assured me it would be taken care of. It wasn't. Next morning after we left La Junta I mentioned it to a woman Amtrak employee who had just gotten on there. She took care of the problem immediately. However, until then, using that washroom was not something most people would do.

The next couple weeks were spent visiting with one of her friends and hunting for wine in various wine valleys in California. If anyone is interested in a report on RR-ing along the UP's former SP line between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles combined with my impressions of the wines found in those areas, please let me know off-line at my e-mail address shown above. I have some railfan friends who are also "wineauxs" (that's a wine lover who doesn't drink his wine out of a bottle concealed by a brown paper bag) for whom I am going to create such a report. Otherwise, I will continue this series of trip reports with my ride from Oceanside, CA to San Antonio, TX.

Part 3: Oceanside CA - San Antonio

After arriving at Oceanside in clouds and rain on Saturday, Jan. 5, we had good weather starting Monday for the rest of the trip. On Sunday, Jan. 20th, still in sunlight, my wife dropped me off at the Oceanside train station (transportation center) so I could catch the 10:18 AM train to LA. This is the train Amtrak shows as the connecting train to #2 the eastbound Sunset Ltd. This train is due into LA at 12:15 PM, over 2 hours before #2 is scheduled to depart. There is another train an hour later that gets into LA at 1:15 PM if it's on time. Given the reliability of train travel on the Surf Line I would not hesitate to take this later train.

Given that I had a little time I once again checked to see if the anticipated start-up of the Sprinter service had begun. The sign still said "SPRINTER COMING SOON." Once again a test train arrived while I was waiting for my train. Hopefully, much better pictures in sunlight. Actually, this was the third test train I caught, having caught another one a couple days earlier down by the new interlocking put in south of the station. Oceanside's station area is not photogenic, but with the new signal bridge, tracks, and Sprinter platforms it looks different than before.

My train arrived on time. It was crowded, and I couldn't find a pair of seats on the left hand side in the coach with the control cab. So, I sat next to another fellow who was headed to Anaheim to watch the football playoffs that day. The crew of this train had the curtain drawn so one couldn't look out the front of the train. Bummer.

The trip itself was uneventful. Got my last look at the Pacific Ocean as we headed north out of San Clemente towards San Juan Capistrano. From that point on until we departed Fullerton I paid scant attention to the trip as you go by warehouses and residential areas. Even the fields on which the dirigible hangers can be seen are now being converted to townhouse developments. Already the view of one hanger is mostly blocked.

Upon reaching LA station I noticed that no other trains were in the station. I dragged my bags into the terminal waiting room and eventually got a bagel sandwich for lunch. This may have been a mistake. I probably should have waited until after boarding #2. Why? Prices at the places inside LA station are typically higher than on either Amtrak's intercity or California/Amtrak's trains. Even a 20 ounce diet coke cost over $2, about the same per ounce as a 12 ounce can of diet Pepsi costs on the train (the cost of a soda on a CA/ATK train is a bit less at a $1.50).

There wasn't anything interesting going on inside the station. Often there is. Eventually I dragged my bags back out onto a platform and watched a few commuter trains and Surfliners come and go. It's easy to watch trains on station platforms because at the end of the tracks is a public pedestrian walkway. No security cops were around either.

About 1:15PM or so, in backed #2 onto the track by which I was sitting. I told an ATK employee who it turned out would be supervising the loading of that train that I was going to be a passenger on it. She said I could board any time I wanted. She assigned me a seat, another window with its view compromised by the space between windows. Again I didn't mind because once more I'd spend most of my time in the observation/lounge. Indeed I would as the last car on this train was one of three sleepers. Of 8 cars on this train, 3 were coaches, 3 sleepers, the dining car, and observation/lounge. The last two cars were the coach and sleeper that would be set off in San Antonio for the TX Eagle. Two P42's powered the train. Fortunately, neither one was #13.

The train departed right on time at 2:30 PM, and then immediately came to a halt. I saw three late passengers running down the platform as we started to depart. Fortunately, the train did pick them up. Almost immediately we were underway again. We arrived at the Pomona station stop on time.

Then the fun began. I had noticed upon boarding the train that posted by the observation/lounge upper serving area was a note about temporary suspension of the station stop at Ontario due to track work. I didn't think much about it, but once we departed Pomona, things quickly began to look differently. Fairly soon I noticed that the train was not passing on the north side of Ontario Airport, but rather on the SOUTH side. Soon, we were on a single track line and eventually came to a cement arch bridge over some river or creek. The train came to a stop with the observation/lounge on that bridge right over that body of water. We didn't stay there too long, and soon were moving east at one point going through a very narrow cut. Eventually, we junctioned with the BNSF mainline west of Riverside. We headed east through Riverside to Colton and then swung around the leg of the wye on the SW side of the diamond onto the former SP mainline and continued on our way to Palm Springs.

We were moving along smartly until we reached Beaumont Hill. Then we slowed down. Apparently there was a freight ahead of us, and even though there were two tracks we couldn't get around it due to westbound freights coming downhill. After getting over the hill we slowed down even more. Eventually, we stopped. Then came the announcement that the freight ahead of us had broken down, and that the crew was inspecting it. Eventually, they got going again, and we limped into Palm Springs two hours late. I thought that we might make up some time before we reached Yuma, AZ, but about 20 minutes out of that town we slowed down again and then stopped and crawled forward awhile. We lost another 45 minutes by the time we reached Yuma.

Out of Yuma I again thought we'd make up some lost time. However, when I woke up the next morning I discovered we were still 2 hours 45 minutes late. At least we hadn't lost any more time. That to me was somewhat of a minor miracle in itself. Late trains tend to get ever later. At least this allowed our getting into Deming, NM in daylight. I was glad of that because it gave me a chance to get some photos of the Southwest RR's power for their train I assumed would run over to Rincon later that day. There were also a pair of battered GP30's in the yard in SW's light blue scheme.

Now one major difference between this trip and my previous trip on this train two years ago began to bear fruit. There were more miles of double track RR in operation than back then. This allowed us either to not lose more time waiting for freights or actually to gain time. The scheduled running time between Demming and El Paso is liberally padded. So, I wasn't too surprised when we arrived in El Paso at about 9:30 AM. The station stop there is also padded so we were able to pull out at 10:07 AM, now a little more than an hour late. Even with the abbreviated station stop I had time to detrain, get some 20 ounce bottles of diet cola for $1 each, and also take a couple photos of the train.

I now thought we might arrive in San Antonio even before our scheduled 10:25 PM time. However, around Sierra Blanca we once again slowed down to allow a freight ahead of us to get into a siding. I thought it was coming at us, but it turned out he had power on the rear as well as on his head-end. Typically, it's coal trains that get DPU's but some manifest trains also get them, and this was one of them. We'd slow down occasionally a few more times, and even stopped coming down Paisano Pass west of Alpine. We always made up the time we lost, but we couldn't seem to gain back much of that hour we were still down.

Being down only an hour meant I finally got to see west Texas in daylight from the train. That's the first time I've done that on an eastbound trip. While the old SP route is not as scenic as the other lines ATK runs over out west, it's got it moments, just not the mountain grades found on the other routes. If you didn't know Beaumont Hill or Paisano Pass were there, you'd never realize you were on a "hill". You do realize there's a descent into El Paso, but it's not one that has a readily recognizable name like Cajon or Raton.

The highlights of the trip may be running next to the Mexican border from a point a few miles west of El Paso (near what the SP called "Anapra") into that town, and the Pecos River high bridge. A third might be going through Langtry, TX, the center of hanging judge Roy Bean's jurisdiction. The scenery is generally pleasant enough even if not overwhelming. Unfortunately, at this time of the year the train has to be right on time to reach the Pecos River bridge before sunset. We reached that bridge at very very last light. By pressing one's head against the observation window you could see the river far below the bridge as we crossed. Then, it was into Del Rio and darkness.

The schedule allows #2 four hours to get from there to San Antonio, a distance of roughly 170 miles. Again, this means that #2 could make up some time IF........there aren't too many freights to meet or pass. Between San Antonio and El Paso, the mainline is still single tracked as the effort to double track or even triple track the RR is being concentrated west of El Paso where all traffic to and from the Golden State route (xRI) joins. Once east of Sierra Blanca freight traffic diminishes some more as the former MP/T&P line breaks off for a direct trip to Ft. Worth/Dallas (large xMP yard on the west side of Ft. Worth). This line is seeing many more trains than just a few years ago. As we headed east on the old SP I watched a westbound TOFC train coming towards Sierra Blanca on the xMP/T&P line.

This time we were lucky. East of Del Rio there weren't many freights to slow us down. This is one of the few UP mainlines on which traffic hasn't been increasing. This is mainly due to trains having been rerouted off this line onto the xMP/T&P route or even having trains rerouted off the old SSW (Cotton Belt)/SP routing via Flatonia, TX through San Antonio west to El Paso. If these reroutings hadn't occurred the line would be so jammed nothing would move. But as it is, ATK's ability to get its trains across west Texas on time often depends on how many stack trains are running that particular day. This also means that railfanning the old SP in west Texas can be a case of feast or famine. If the stacks are running, you will keep busy. Otherwise, you could sit hours at one spot waiting for a train to run. On this night with few if any stack trains running we pulled into San Antonio only 35 minutes late.

Before I end this report I want to comment about ATK's food services. Once again I never tried the dining car on any of the trains I've ridden so far. The principal reason is the same as always - the okay food is too expensive. ATK's pricing seems to be based on what a similar meal in a good restaurant in a major metropolitan area would likely cost you. The problem with that is twofold:

  • Such restaurants usually serve you food that is better than what you typically get on ATK; and

  • Most of ATK's passengers outside of those who typically ride on the NE Corridor don't live in major metropolitan areas or if they do, seldom go to such nice restaurants except on special occasions.

While in some respects dinner in the diner can be viewed as a special occasion in itself, for the average ATK coach passenger what's wanted is some decent food at what they consider to be at a decent price. This is not a $7.75 hamburger for lunch or supper. This is not a $21 steak, nor $16.50 piece of salmon. Sleeping car passengers may not care because the cost of their meals is included in the price of their accommodations. However, given the price of a sleeping space, I'd darn well care that the quality of food correlated with the price being paid for that meal.

As for food in the lounge section of the observation/lounge car, there are still some relative bargains IF the lounge is stocked with those items. One of my favorites is the instant lunch - a cup of noodles with some vegetables over which some part of a chicken has been brushed for flavor. This cost $1.75 and serves as a lunch or even supper. After all, how much do you really need to eat if all you're going to do is sit until the trip is over? For breakfast you can get a box of cereal and 2 small cartons of milk for $2. A gardenburger cost under $4, and a pizza (cheese or pepperoni) often enough for one person goes for $3.50. The problem is inventory. On both #51 and #3 the lounge started out with less than a half dozen cups of the instant lunch. On both trains these were quickly purchased. Fortunately, #2 had lots of these. Unfortunately, #2's lounge had NO gardenburgers. Nor did it have any rice krispees for breakfast, only frosted flakes.

Which brings me to my biggest complaint about ATK's food - that it has yet to recognize the growing body of evidence against serving high sugar or high fat foods. It seems to recognize that fat can be an issue, but not sugar. Virtually everything ATK serves is loaded with sugar. It could keep much of its same inventory and still have items with less sugar. For example, rather than stocking a yogurt with 30 or more grams of sugar per serving, it could stock versions from the same company that have 10 or less per serving. Since I am "borderline diabetic" this is a real issue with me and one of the reasons I bring some of my own food.

Less critical to me but still a sore point is the lack of sodas without caffeine. The only non-caffeinated sodas ATK routinely carries are loaded with sugar, not the diet versions. The only diet cola it has is caffeinated diet pepsi. Now, if I can't find caffeine free diet cola I'll drink the hopped up stuff as it doesn't SEEM to bother me. However, my doctor would prefer I didn't drink such stuff. I was really glad I had my own stash of diet sodas when the lounge on #3 ran out of them.

Thus, my advice to anyone traveling on ATK is that if you have any problem with any kind of food(s) that you bring some of your own that you know you can eat just to be on the safe side.

Part 4: San Antonio - Washington DC

By the time my friend Norm Schultze and I were on the way back from Ft. Lauderdale, it was pretty clear that I wanted to be home no later than Feb. 26. That meant leaving San Antonio on Feb. 24 if I took the TX Eagle to Chicago and then connected with the Capital Ltd. Not wanting to spend any more $$$ than I already had or would before leaving, I contacted Amtrak "Guest Rewards" and was able to redeem 8,000 points for a 2 zone ticket between those spots. Being that I didn't expect to do any railfanning in Chicago between trains (really hoping the TX Eagle would be 2-4 hours late) I didn't consider trying to see if any sleeper accommodations were available. As it is, one of my doctors prefers that I sleep on an angle. An Amtrak coach seat is a good way to do this.

Norm and I spent our final night on the road at Longview, TX. Next morning the Amtrak station there opened up somewhere between 8 AM and 8;30 AM in time to handle passengers for the southbound TX Eagle scheduled in at 9 AM, but running about 35 minutes late. I stopped at the station and after a bit of confusion was able to get my tickets. At first the agent thought I had yet to pay for them, but I quickly set him straight about that.

So, come 5 AM Sunday morning I awoke and prepared to catch the TX Eagle now leaving San Antonio at 7 AM. Norm got me to the station by 6:30 AM, and I boarded the train almost immediately. Right on schedule the train started backing down the former SP mainline to the junction with the former MKT mainline (now Main #2).

Mileage collectors can become frustrated if they try getting every mile the TX Eagle may use between San Antonio and San Marcos. UP operating conditions determine on which track the train will come into and leave San Antonio as well as which crossover the train will use to get to the San Marcos station stop. There is only one platform at the San Marcos station even though both main tracks go by the station. The platform is along the old MP main, Main #1. This time our train departed San Antonio in the typical way - backing west along the xSP main down to the junction with the former MKT main and then north on it (Main #2). This trip, however, we switched over to the xMP main at Ogden, the first crossover north of San Antonio. It was the first time in some years I had a chance to look at the Western RR's trackage in back of the Cemex cement plant located south of New Braunfels. This routing also takes you by the old MP (originally International Great Northern) passenger station that now houses a RR museum.

There are two other sets of crossovers that the TX Eagle can use to get between tracks. One is at Conrads/Jude north of New Braunfels, and the other is on the south side of San Marcos just south of the San Marcos yard. South of this second crossover, the old MP goes over the old MKT line.

Perhaps it was due to being a Sunday, but UP freight traffic didn't delay this train at all. We pulled into Temple, TX on the BNSF ahead of time. That's when I saw an ATK P42 in the engine terminal there. "I wonder what that's doing there?" I said to myself. The answer was soon clear. It was to be added onto our train. Apparently, it had developed traction motor problems some days earlier and was now ready to be sent back north. However, it wasn't until AFTER the scheduled departure time that the engine even began to maneuver its way over to our train. Why? We were told that BNSF freight traffic had made doing so sooner impossible. So, we sat for an additional 35 minutes while this unit was added to the head end. At least we were going to have more than enough power for our 6 car train (2 sleepers, diner, observation/lounge, and 2 coaches) to keep up to track speed.

We regained the lost time and stayed on time the rest of the way through Texas. There is plenty of padding in the schedule, especially at the Fort Worth service stop. At both Fort Worth and Dallas I got off the train for a few minutes. Somehow I failed to notice that the extra engine had been taken off, probably in Fort Worth.

After getting off the train In Dallas I photographed a DART LRV train. When I returned to my seat I found two older women sitting there. Now, I don't mind the train attendant reassigning me to another seat, but that's not what happened. Rather, the older of the two women sat down on the aisle seat claiming she couldn't walk any farther. The other woman then moved my stuff I had on the window seat to someplace in the overhead storage area. This is something the train attendant shouldn't have allowed. She should have told the woman to wait until I returned and then figured out how to handle the matter. I suggested to the older woman that in the future whenever she made a train reservation to ask for a lower level coach seat.

As it turned out, I got what I considered a better seat in the rear coach right by the rear of the car. Ironically I had spent some time sitting in that very seat earlier that afternoon as the train ran over the BNSF to Fort Worth. As the day was sunny, and the windows clean, looking out the rear of the train and taking occasional photos was quite pleasant.

Even more disturbing is what happened to another passenger at the Dallas stop. Another older woman asked another train attendant to remove a large piece of luggage from the train. She said she'd come back for it "later." Well, it wasn't hers. Fortunately, the real owner also stepped off the train, saw his large red bag sitting on the platform, and asked the train attendant why it was there. The matter was quickly sorted out, but I wonder - does this happen very often? I assume not, and certainly hope not. He and I joked about our Dallas experiences until he detrained later that evening.

I also finally got a photo of a UP genset as we rolled between Fort Worth and Dallas. Despite having spent a few days on the ground railfanning in that area, the UP gensets always avoided me. They were always in the wrong places at the wrong times for me. Even this shot wasn't that good, but hopefully I'll be able to replace it with better ones next time. As we departed the Dallas area the sun was shining in through the rear of the train so I went to the observation car for a lunch of noodles (still $1.75 and still a good value). Sunset found the train nearing the Longview station stop slightly ahead of time once again. For some reason all UP freights were nicely tucked away in sidings awaiting our passage. Was there someone extra special riding the train?

An engine crew change occurred at Marshall, TX, which gave passengers a few minutes to walk around and look at the well preserved xT&P station. Fortunately, the new crew arrived before we were scheduled to leave, so we lost no time. However, sometime during the night we did lose time. We were a bit over an hour late getting into St. Louis. It was cloudy and had been snowing. I got off the train there to get another soft drink in the station. I refuse to pay $1.75 for a 12 ounce can of soda on the train. The station area has lots of construction activity related, it appears, to the building of the new St. Louis ATK station. With snow and water everywhere, I quickly reboarded before getting wet. The trip through Illinois was fast, thank goodness, as the route is flat and boring once you leave Alton. Before then, there is the Mississippi River crossing over the MacArthur Bridge and enough RR junctions and yards being passed to make things interesting for a RR photographer.

The schedule through Illinois doesn't allow for making up much lost time. What padding there is was lost to meeting a couple southbound ATK trains and a UP local. So, even with the additional schedule padding between Joliet and Chicago Union Station, we pulled into Chicago about 35 minutes late. I was hoping for an even later arrival as I now had about a 4 hour layover until the eastbound Capital Ltd. departed.

I spent the time having a large lunch and drinking a pitcher of beer on special for $7 that Monday at the "Snuggery", a bar in the upstairs Food Court. Another fellow from off the TX Eagle later joined me, and we talked until about 6 PM. Then I felt I should get down to the ATK lounge and get ready for the eventual boarding of my train. Imagine my surprise when I entered the Lounge to hear the first boarding message for my train. It was now just a few minutes after 6 PM, more than an hour until the train was due to depart. Has ATK heeded complaints about hectic last minute boardings (10-15 minutes before departure time) and started boarding trains sooner? I certainly hope so. The was the most pleasant boarding of that train I've experienced even if I did end up being assigned an aisle seat.

I got another surprise that night. At around 8 PM EST the lounge attendant announced a "Happy Hour" would be in effect until 9 PM. He had four types of liquor (a vodka, gin, bourbon whiskey, and a blended Scotch whiskey) on sale for $3 per bottle rather than the usual $5 per bottle. I asked him if this was something new, as for the last many years I wasn't aware of ATK having "Happy Hours" any more [It had been a tradition for some years many years ago, but was likely dropped as a cost cutting measure]. He told me that they had been doing it for awhile, but that it would likely end again. His "awhile" was a year or two, but I had not recently experienced any "Happy Hour" on this train or any other before this ride.

The next morning I met a woman railfan who had once worked for the Wisconsin Central RR. She had been working in the yard on a switching crew job for about 4 months when she was run over in a freak accident. She lost her right leg below her knee and had her left elbow smashed. As she said, she was lucky because on that night the crew was using SW1200's, not SW1500's. There was enough difference in the clearance level between the two loco types that the SW1200's didn't kill her. Had SW1500's been used, she would have died. Likewise, she said she got lucky that it was at the elbow her left arm was run over. Anywhere else and she would have lost at least part of the arm. She was following the route on a set of maps produced in England that shows every line in high detail in terms of junctions and even some signals. The map she was using even showed the "High Rock" signals at the east end of the Catoctin Tunnel. I gave her a "guided tour" of the line while she followed using her map book. It made for a pleasant ending to this trip.

There was one final surprise. CSXT got this train over its RR ON-TIME !!! Amtrak blew it slightly by having the train back into Washington Union Station rather than head straight in. Even with this maneuver we arrived no more than 5 minutes late. I dragged my bags to Metro and was back at the Greenbelt METRO station by 2:30 PM, 56 days after I had started this trip. My wife picked me up, and home we went.

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